The Lay Of The Land

A proposal to limit the number of homes that can be built on steep slopes won the Buncombe County Planning Board’s seal of approval last week.

On April 7, the Planning Board unanimously recommended that the Board of Commissioners add hillside-development standards to the county’s subdivision ordinance.

The proposed regulations, noted Planning Board members, aren’t terribly restrictive.

The rules would apply to new subdivisions built on land with an average slope of 15 percent or greater (calculated using the same formula employed by the city of Asheville). That figure, in turn, would determine how many units could be built per acre. Asheville’s rules also correlate with the city’s zoning districts.

Under the county proposal, a subdivision with an average natural slope of 15 percent would be allowed no more than two units per acre (if served by septic tanks) or 12 units per acre (if served by sewers). At the other end of the spectrum, a subdivision with an average natural slope of 65 percent could have no more than one unit per 10 acres (with septic) and one unit per two acres (with sewers).

Land Planning Collaborative President Bob Grasso — an Asheville landscape architect who has served as an unpaid adviser to the Planning Board — said he’d advised one of his clients to build even fewer units on a particular piece of property on Webb Cove Road than would be permitted under the proposed ordinance. On that parcel (which has an average slope of 35 percent), Grasso noted that the number of units the county would allow is “very liberal.”

Planning Board member David Summey said the proposal isn’t terribly restrictive.

“We’re trying to give the developers a place to start,” commented Chairman Jim McElduff — a statement echoed by Planning Board member Bill Newman.

At Newman’s suggestion, the proposal was further diluted by removing all restrictions on the amount of land that could be graded. McElduff agreed, observing that it was pointless to include the restriction anyway, since they had no way to enforce it.

The idea of regulating hillside development has been kicked around for at least a year as the previous Planning Board explored how other communities handle the issue. Currently, there are virtually no restrictions on developing steeply sloping property in the unincorporated parts of the county.

The few rules that do exist are spelled out in the county’s erosion-control and subdivision ordinances. The latter dictates the minimum amount of property required along the roadside edge of a lot to prevent steeply pitched, “suicidal” driveways, County Planner Jim Coman has said. Beaverdam and Limestone townships also have minimal rules governing hillside development.

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners — which asked for a recommendation from the Planning Board — will take up the matter next.

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