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Macon to drop back and punt on slope rules

“Finishing the conversation” has become something of a catchphrase lately in Macon County. It’s a really diplomatic way of saying that while the planning board should keep plugging away at construction guidelines, there’s no guarantee the building regulations they develop will do anything more than sit on a shelf and gather dust.

County Planner Derek Roland created a new twist to the now-well worn phrase, however, when asked whether he believes his beleaguered planning board can accomplish anything at all.

“This gives us a new starting point to continue that conversation,” Roland said in a recent interview.

After more than two years of developing a steep slope ordinance, the Macon County planning board decided to table the work. It salvaged a few of the more salient building rules in a set of construction guidelines, such as hillside excavation and compaction of fill dirt.

County commissioners last week approved the planning board’s change of course.

Before commissioners made their decision, however, Planning Board Member Lamar Sprinkle, a local surveyor, took advantage of the county commissioner’s public session to lob a few grenades at those he disagrees with on the planning board.

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He described them as “extreme ideologists … who have their own agenda they want to put forward.”

“The planning board is irreconcilably divided at this time,” Sprinkle said, adding that in his opinion, commissioners should shoot down any attempt by the planning board to work on general construction guidelines.

“It would be really difficult for us to sit down and come up with standards for the county,” Sprinkle said.

Additionally, Sprinkle told commissioners, developing standards such as these should be the work of professionals in the construction field and not be left to amateurs on the planning board lacking the necessary expertise.

Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland has described the 13-member board as a hung jury unable to reach consensus on a possible steep-slope ordinance. Penland hopes by steering clear of the more controversial parts of a steep-slope ordinance — the very name, the state landslide maps that were used as a baseline, the steepness of slopes triggering regulations, whether Wildflower subdivision’s roads are being unfairly targeted as bad just because a couple fell off the mountain — he can steer the planning board through the more basic construction guidelines.

Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, liaison to the planning board and creator of that popular phrase, “finishing the conversation,” told his fellow commissioners he supported altering the group’s direction.

“We need to allow them to finish the job,” Kuppers said in a new twist on the original.

Commissioner Ron Haven asked what timeframe the planning board would now be on, and Kuppers replied that he believes the board would still be able to report back to commissioners in September, as instructed.

Chairman Brian McClellan reiterated that point, saying, “We’re still looking for September recommendations.”

The planning board is set to meet again Thursday, Aug. 18, beginning at 5 p.m. in the meeting room at the county’s public health center.

Roland, asked to predict what could hang up the 13-member board this time, said he believes compaction will prove a big issue, and “that cuts and fills will certainly be something we’ll discuss.”

That, of course, pretty much covers the guts of the proposed general construction guidelines in Macon County.


Condensed general construction guidelines

• Fill material must be free of organic or other degradable materials and properly compacted before building.

• No excavated slope can be taller than 30 feet in vertical height.

• For cut slopes more than 8 feet and 30 feet in vertical height, the slopes can’t exceed 1.0 vertical to 1.5 horizontal.

• For fill slopes between 5 feet and 30 feet in vertical height, the slopes can’t exceed 1.0 vertical to 2.0 horizontal.

• A bench with a minimum width of 5 feet must be constructed at the toe of any fill slope greater than 5 feet in vertical height. Fills greater than 10 feet in vertical height must have a bench at the toe of the fill with a minimum width of 10 feet, and an additional 5 foot wide bench for each additional 5 feet in vertical height.

• The planning office can waive rules if justified by an engineer.

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