Saturday, April 12, 2008

Asheville/Buncombe County Landslide Map Shows High Risk Residential Development Locations

The preliminary Buncombe County, North Carolina landslide hazard map shows mountainous terrain at serious risk of potential slope failures. Red zones (High Geologic Hazard) pinpoint hazardous construction locations: high probability that slope modifications will trigger landslides.

A significant number of landslides and landslide deposits are displayed on the map. These areas are considered unsuitable and unsafe building locations.

The Buncombe County Hazard Mitigation Plan (August 23, 2004) determined that the steep slopes and fragile soils of Western North Carolina put the county at high risk for landslides. This report was issued just weeks before the catastrophic 15 county slope failures of 2004.
(Western North Carolina received 2 federal disaster declarations in September 2004)

Buncombe County's mountain real estate is currently under extensive development. Some of the largest residential/resort projects are: Versant, Reynolds Mountain, Bartram's Walk, The Settings, The Cliffs at High Carolina, Crest Mountain, and Southcliff. Their approximate locations are indicated on the hazard map. These mountain slope communities were approved without landslide investigation.

Geologic Hazards are defined as geologic events which are so adverse to past, current, or foreseeable construction or land use as to constitute an extreme hazard to public health, safety and property. When geologic hazard ordinances are enacted they provide real estate risk disclosure and require strict regulation and control over the development and sale of hazardous land. Buyer Beware: There are no geologic hazard ordinances in Western North Carolina.

The 2005 Western North Carolina landslide hazard mapping program, Is it Safe to Build Here? was intended to prevent the development and sale of hazardous real estate but planning boards and developers in the 21 county region refused to wait for these critical safety studies.

The hazard maps for Macon, Buncombe, and Watauga counties show that hundreds of homes and residential roads have been built in precarious areas. It should be noted that 75% of the developable land in Western North Carolina is located on more than a 15 degree slope and state geologists warn that this is the threshold for landslide activity.

Tyler Clark, former chief geologist with the North Carolina Geological Survey, stated in an interview, "You can build in many places in North Carolina, but you have to do it right. You need good planning, design, and construction anytime you develop, and part of that is knowing what hazards to look for." NCDENR UPCLOSE

The public should be aware that Western North Carolina mountain real estate is a definable risky asset regardless of whether this information is disclosed on current sales contracts. Deaths from landslides are uncommon, 6 recorded fatalities since 2003, but property damage is frequent, expensive, and uninsurable. The landslide hazard maps will affect the future value of many Western North Carolina mountain homes. Properties that are located on or near landslides and landslide deposits will be classified high risk real estate.

Prospective buyers should not rely on the actions of Western North Carolina planning boards, Realtors, or developers to protect their safety or financial interests.

When buying mountain real estate, become informed and choose wisely. Slope stability can only be determined by state licensed engineers and geologists: Sellers are not qualified to make these assessments. Complete site specific analyses are affordable, generally less than $2,000.

Attorney General Roy Cooper recently counseled, "It's tragic when people lose their homes, especially when it could be prevented"

1 comment:

janeAnne said...

Landslides. The Steep Slopes and What You Need to Know.
UPDATE: March, 2009

PLEASE KNOW that all of us at the Eco-Steward Real Estate Firm are Eco Certified® Real Estate Consultants, and specialize in land carefully and thoughtfully reviewed for eco-friendly development.

Also, please know that we consider steep slopes and landslides a potential hazard ( I have personal experience with the result of flat-lander inexperience in my own neighborhood and decry it)

...and that we DO recommend that our clients contact Professionals and bring in a State licensed geotechnical engineer, if necessary ... to look at potential hazards ...

HERE IN BUNCOMBE COUNTY we have been having quite a brouhaha in terms of Steep Slope development...and landslides ...Fingers have been pointed at Developers, Sellers and at REALTORS® . ..

THIS IS ONE Real Estate Firm NOT to be disparaged .AND there are over 300 other REALTORS® who have taken advanced ECO-related training and CARE about this situation. the Eco-Steward Real Estate Firm ALL members are Eco Certified® Real Estate Consultants, and specialize in land carefully and thoughtfully reviewed for eco-friendly development

I wrote the following post back in 2007....


Real Estate Investors and Developers with little experience in terms of steep slopes might want to seek out the assistance of an ECO certified REALTOR® and her team of Experts.

Here in Western North Carolina, Landslides are a reality as you can see with this graphic shared at a class we recently took with Richard Wooten at the Warren Wilson College Environmental Leadership Center just outside of Asheville.

Some landslides only consist of soil, called an earthslide. Some are a mixture of soil, rock trees and mud, called a debris flow. Other landslides contain only rock, called a rockfall or rockslide.

In any case, it behooves the REALTOR®, and developer to be conscious of that fact, and so advise clients. Not long ago a developer from a State where mountains are not so common, bought a huge ridge top where he planned to erect 4000 sq ft homes on 1 AC lots and place them atop the lofty peaks. What the developer didn't know was that this" prime acreage" was unstable.

The result for the developer was a combination of community concern, private embarrassment, and public back-peddling. Once the community found out that the "flatlander" was planning to build on steep slopes in an area prone to landslides, they were (rightly) distressed.

Who wants to live downhill from where a landslide might take you for a fast ride in the middle of the night? For that matter, who would want to invest in a home under those conditions?

Obviously, the community groups reasoned, that developer must not have a clue as to the dangerous conditions with which he was tampering. Shouldn't he at least have looked at the property to see if there were signs of danger such as breaks in the ground surface and/or curved trees? (see photo below our photographer took at an acreage soon to go on the market.)

Back to the story....Community members, fueled by their feelings of extreme concern,
formed vocal groups.
They came in noisy droves to the commissioners' planning board meetings,
making it necessary for the meetings to be moved to larger and larger rooms.

The media picked up on the story. A few months passed. The developer learned that the community groups had hired an attorney. Having done that, the attorney began his process of discovery. He verified that slope stability analyses from the planning through construction and inspection phases of developments can help mitigate the potential for landslide damage.He also found out that the analyses, best done by the cooperative efforts of qualified geotechnical engineers, geologists and soil scientists, were nowhere to be found.

This lack of due diligence on the part of interested parties created an opening for the community groups to question the safety of the project. They were able temporarily to halt development pending environmental assessment studies and review of steep slope ordinances.

Soon, in our part of the mountains, landslides and potential landslide areas will be mapped.Then investors, developers and REALTORS® will have readily accessible tools with which to identify and disclose that home sites and homes in those areas are vulnerable to landslide. For all of us, it is a good idea to know certain pertinent facts about the topography and geology of a tract of land that go beyond desirability of location.

What do you think?

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All the Best,
Asheville North Carolina’s “Greenolina”
Broker-in-Charge/Owner, The Eco-Steward Firm

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