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Despite landslide worries, state slope rules face uphill battle

A controversial bill to regulate development on steep slopes to prevent landslides will be reintroduced in the state legislature this year after dying in committee last time.

The bill was crafted by Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, who said it has a “much better chance” of passing this time because people are beginning to see the value of such laws. A recent landslide in Maggie Valley that destroyed a home brought to light once again the need for such regulations, Rapp added.

The bill doesn’t say that you can’t build on steep slopes, but instead requires oversight when doing so — namely by mandating that builders consult an engineer when building on slopes that exceed a threshold of 40 percent. The bill calls on mountain counties to adopt slope laws, providing minimum standards to go by.

However, Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, said he opposed the legislation last time and likely will again because he doesn’t think landowners should be restricted.

Such regulations make it impossible to develop land and build roads, West said. The recent landslide in Maggie Valley does not change his opinion either, saying that it’s an isolated case.

Rather than the state developing a “one-size fits all” bill for steep slope development, it should be left up to individual counties to develop the laws, said West.

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Macon County, which he represents, does not have such a law, nor does Swain County. Haywood and Jackson do, but they are rarities in WNC.

The recent landslide in Maggie involved a home built prior to Haywood’s slope ordinance. While county officials flagged the slope as unstable and issued warnings to the property owners, the construction was grandfathered in and didn’t have to comply.

Had the slope law been triggered at the time of construction, however, the slide likely wouldn’t have occurred, county officials have said. Rapp’s bill is patterned after Haywood’s slope law.

Many of those opposed to the bill work in real estate or home construction, although Rapp said he has support from some in those groups this time. Rapp would not elaborate on how many people from those fields were backing him.

The goal is not to harm the real estate business or the home building industry, he said, but to provide a level of assurance to homebuyers that they are purchasing a safe piece of property.

Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, co-sponsored the legislation last time, and said it needs to be looked at again.

The bill not only has to clear the House, but the Senate as well. That means finding a senator willing to shepherd it through the Senate. Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, said he thinks such regulations are needed but could not say if he would support the bill because he has not seen it.

And Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, said he would also give the bill serious consideration, adding that work into mapping dangerous slopes in the region needs to continue.

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