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Macon eyes steep slope ordinance

The Macon County Planning Board is in the beginning stages of developing an ordinance that would regulate development on steep slopes.

Haywood and Jackson counties shared presentations on their steep slope ordinances with the Macon planning board last week. Marc Pruett, program director for Haywood County Erosion Control, presented a slide show with pictures of houses and roads that have collapsed as a result of being built on steep slopes.

He showed several pictures from Maggie Valley in which houses slid off the side of cliffs, like a recent slide there, and destroyed the home. One house he showed a picture of had not been built a year and was already beginning to slide off the side of the mountain.

The Macon County Planning Board wanted to hear presentations from Haywood and Jackson counties to get ideas about what it might want to put into its ordinance.

Before the planning board officially begins working on putting together an ordinance it must receive the go ahead from the county commissioners, which has not been granted.

Macon County Director of Planning, Permitting and Development Jack Morgan said a steep slope ordinance is something that may be a part of a future comprehensive plan for the county.

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Developing a steep slope ordinance may not happen without some backlash from the Macon County Homebuilders Association and Realtors. Such organizations often fight against rules that restrict home development.

Haywood County’s slope ordinance was actually endorsed by the Homebuilders Association there, after a round of revisions that loosened the standards from what was originally proposed. Jackson County Planning Director Linda Cable said the ordinance in her county did not get that kind of support. Jackson’s ordinances are tougher and more comprehensive than Haywood’s.

The Macon County Homebuilders Association was not invited to the meeting, said President Reggie Holland. Holland said he is unfamiliar with any plan to develop an ordinance but thinks his organization would like to have some input on it.

“We would like to be included in the process,” Holland told The Smoky Mountain News.

Holland was unable to say whether his organization would oppose an ordinance if the county indeed decides to pursue one.

Planning Board member Susan Ervin advocates a steep slope ordinance for many reasons, including safety, environmental and aesthetic. Building homes on steep slopes can be dangerous for those who live in the home and below it, Ervin noted.

Such development can also cause environmental problems when land is stripped, resulting in erosion. When slopes are disturbed rain runs off faster and the groundwater is not recharged as well, Ervin noted.

Putting so many houses on the side of the mountains also damages the views, Ervin said.

As far as property rights go, Morgan said they stop at someone’s property line. Building on slopes presents an “inherent danger” and should be addressed, Morgan said.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Larry Stenger was not at the meeting but said he whole heartedly supports developing a steep slope ordinance.

Sedimentation can run off the side of mountains and get into creeks and damage marine habitat, said Stenger.

The key to responsible steep slope development is education, said Stenger. Realtors need to let their clients know about developing on steep slopes, he said.

Over the years several roads in Macon County have washed out because they were built improperly on steep slopes, Stenger noted.

Developers should not be allowed to get a permit to build a home until they go to a seminar about building in the mountains, said Stenger. Much of the problem comes from “shyster” developers trying to make a profit building roads and homes without concern for their future stability, said Stenger. And people from out of the state come in and buy the homes ignorant of the potential dangers, Stenger said.

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