Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Future Value of Western North Carolina Mountain Real Estate

Would you prefer to know now or in the future that Western North Carolina property values will be adversely affected by landslide probability maps?

It is a fact: the dangerous and careless rush to build homes and roads on Western North Carolina's hazardous unmapped mountain slopes will have a serious cost. Spontaneous and uncontrollable landslides will cause fatalities and massive uninsurable property loss. These catastrophic events happened in September 2004 and they will happen again.

The Western North Carolina federally required landslide mapping program was intended to prevent the development and sale of hazardous land. Instead planning boards and developers in the 21 county high risk region refused to wait for these critical safety studies. As a result thousands of homes have been built and are being constructed on or below treacherous slopes throughout the region. Three landslide maps are now in the public domain. The hazard maps for Macon, Buncombe, and Watauga counties show that hundreds of homes and access roads have been sited on old landslide deposits and unstable soils. These landslide prone properties will soon be legally defined as high risk real estate.

In December 2007 the District of Northern Vancouver issued a geologic report showing the location of homes at risk of lethal landslides. The study identified 41 homes at high probability of slope failures. There are 29 other locations in the district yet to be investigated. Owners of the now identified hazardous properties are concerned that this public information will impair the salability of their homes.

According to Sam Cooper's article, "Homeowners cry foul over DNV landslide risk report," in the December 20, 2007 edition of North Shore Outlook, DNV Mayor Richard Walton said he doesn't doubt that real estate values will be affected by the report and others likely to follow across the district, but he maintained public safety trumps all other concerns.

Jay Straith, an attorney representing some of the families in the 2005 Seymour landslide tragedy said if previous councils would have been as "proactive" with risk assessment policy as the current one, the Kuttner tragedy would have never happened.

Straith has stated that the district knew the Seymour slide area had geotechnical issues, but didn't take adequate steps to warn property owners. Now, he says it appears the district has "learned the lesson."

"People are buying and selling properties with no disclosure of geotechnical issues. (Landslide and other risk issues experienced in North Vancouver) is the tip of a very large iceberg going across the whole province." Straith believes that risk information should be tagged to land titles across the province, as is done in disaster-prone California."

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