Take another look at hillside regulation

Rebecca Bowe’s “Green Scene” on July 9 shed some light on the upcoming changes in the Buncombe County Subdivision Ordinance. However, the article [appeared] skewed towards increasing fear and igniting controversy instead of factual reporting.

It seems that [everyone] quoted in the article was either misquoted or truly misunderstood what regulations are currently in place and what the proposed changes include.

As a member of the Buncombe County Planning Board, I am charged with understanding fully and enforcing these regulations for every development. I do not take my duties lightly, and I sacrifice substantial time and effort in making fair and balanced decisions on subdivision and zoning approvals.

For those who may have been misled by what they read, here are some facts:

• Buncombe County has some of the most restrictive development regulations in the western counties. Our slope-development restrictions were the first of their kind in any county west of Hickory.

• Steep-slope regulations have been in place since 2002.

• The “Hillside Development” regulations were strengthened on July 1, 2006, to include further restrictions on land-disturbance percentage on parcels with an average slope greater than 25 percent.

• The limits of disturbance for infrastructure (roads, water, sewer etc.) for parcels with slopes from 25 percent to 35 percent is 30 percent of the total area. For slopes greater than 35, the limits are reduced to 15 percent.

• These same limitations apply to each lot once the infrastructure is in place and stabilized, allowing for minimum disturbance for a house site, driveway, well and septic area.

Suggesting that “up to 60 percent of a site” may be disturbed under current or proposed regulations is ludicrous. The new regulations do not change percentages. The definition of land disturbance, as proposed, is simply to avoid misinterpretation of the term, which is defined as “reshaping the ground surface by grading” (NC Erosion and Sediment Control Planning and Design Manual).

Trimming and brush removal of fallen timber, invasive plants like kudzu, bitterroot and other nonindigenous plants do not fall under this definition. Restricting homeowners from removing these sometimes-destructive undergrowth materials is simply overstepping the bounds and intent of the county ordinance.

Ms. Griffith with the WNC Alliance suggests that we (the Planning Board) have not been enforcing the regulations as written. (I do not recall seeing Ms. Griffith at a single Planning Board meeting.) Ask any recent development applicant and I feel sure they will tell you otherwise.

Commission Vice Chair David Gantt is quoted as saying, “We’re going to hopefully get some new Planning Board people … who will basically look at what we say, instead of just doing their own interpretation. They’re basically saying that you can disturb it all.”

Again, I encourage Mr. Gantt and the other commissioners to attend a Planning Board meeting and further understand the process before suggesting that we are not doing our job. And I look forward to working with [any new board members] to continue to make fair and balanced decisions on subdivision approvals based on the ordinance mandated by the commissioners.

Will our new ordinance address every concern from all parties interested in the growth of our county? No. Will the regulations evolve to address sustainable growth as new residents move to the area? Yes. Will we ever have ordinances and regulations that meet the absolute satisfaction of the development and environmental communities? Probably not.

We will endeavor to find that balance that protects the primary interests of all residents, protects the health, safety and welfare of the general public, and keeps Buncombe County a desirable place to live for generations to come.

— Brian Bartlett
Buncombe County Planning Board member

Reporter Rebecca Bowe responds: Because I record and then transcribe all of my interviews, I can assure Mr. Bartlett that no one was misquoted. Additionally, some of the primary sources for this piece (not quoted) were attorneys who had studied the rule changes in depth and come to the conclusion that the proposed rules would allow for more land disturbance.

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