It’s a good time to speak up about Buncombe’s steep-slope ordinance: On Jan. 7, a Maggie Valley mudslide destroyed a mountainside home, and the event adds urgency to a special public meeting the Buncombe County Planning Board has scheduled at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 22, in the Permits and Inspections meeting room (30 Valley St.). The board is considering changes to the county’s Hillside Development Standards.
At least one local environmental group, the Western North Carolina Alliance, is urging that the board make no changes that would weaken the ordinance.
Consider what happened to Bruce and Lorraine Donin. According to a report in the Jan. 14 Smoky Mountain News, on Jan. 7, Bruce Donin awoke to find the roof on top of him and his wife screaming for help. After five inches of rain had soaked their Wild Acres neighborhood in a 24-hour period, the couple’s Maggie Valley home crumpled under a 300-foot mudslide. Donin dug his wife out of the rubble, and they crawled out from under the roof — the only remaining, intact part of the house. Donin, 69, and his wife Lorraine, 67, both survived with minor injuries.
Although the SMN report indicates that as early as 2005, both an independent engineering firm and county officials had warned about the dangers of a slide, the Donins’ home and the one above it were built just before Haywood County’s steep-slope ordinance was passed in 2007. And state legislation put forth by Rep. Ray Rapp — the Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act — hasn’t made it to a vote; the North Carolina Homebuilders Association and the North Carolina Realtors have opposed it (see “Losing by a Landslide,” a Jan. 12 Xpress news post).
The WNC Alliance warns that one proposal being considered by the Buncombe board — doubling the amount of land clearing that can take place on natural slope greater than 35 percent -— will make the county ordinance less protective. But another proposal could reduce the chance of a disaster like the one in Maggie Valley, because it would lower the number of home allowed on steep slopes, say WNCA representatives.
To review the current standards, click here.
For more information about the meeting, call 250-4830.
— Margaret Williams, contributing editor