Surviving steep-slope development

There are few local issues more deserving of the title “hot-button” than steep-slope development. Complex concerns like landslides, watershed conservation, property taxes and mountain views are all wrapped up in it; neighbors living downhill from steep-slope-developments-in-progress have no shortage of opinion on the subject. But rather than fan the flames of controversy, one ad-hoc committee has made an attempt to take the long view on the topic, issuing a comprehensive report that’s meant to serve as a guide for more sustainable practices.

Landslide: A photograph from the Mountain Ridge and Steep Slope Protection Advisory Committee report shows a worst-case scenario of steep-slope construction.

The Mountain Ridge and Steep Slope Protection Advisory Committee was created under the auspices of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, with a $40,000 grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Its members represent a host of interests, including the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, local elected officials, planners, land trusts, developers and others. The team took a year and a half to research and compile the 71-page report, which includes findings on landslides, ground-water depletion, surface-water quality, loss of natural areas and other aspects of mountainside development.

“The issue’s been looming for a while, but a couple years ago one of our board members gave a presentation … and talked about how the current state regulations just weren’t adequate to control growth on the steep slopes,” explains Linda Giltz, land-use planner at Land-of-Sky.

The final report, according to Land-of-Sky Environmental Services Manager Bill Eaker, includes strategies for everyone, from citizen activist to county commissioner to developer. One effort under way seeks to establish a two-day course and certification program for developers who want to adhere to best practices.

According to the report, developed land in the mountains has increased by 44 percent over the last 20 years, and estimates suggest that the region will lose an additional 22 percent of its open space during the next 20 years. The report points to the need to conserve headwaters of streams, preserve wildlife habitat, protect homeowners from landslides and shield surrounding property owners from ground-water depletion.

The goal from here on out, says Eaker, is getting the Mountain Ridge and Steep Slope Protection Advisory Committee recommendations into the hands of stakeholders throughout Western North Carolina and working to get those ideas converted into action. “There’s a strategy in there for everyone,” he says. “And we are asking individuals and organizations to let us know if they can play a role in implementing the various strategies.”

For an electronic version of the report, visit www.landofsky.org. Hard copies are available from the council for $10 each.

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