Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Maggie Valley Landslide Will Affect Real Estate Values

Wild Acres Landslide 2009

Wild Acres Landslide 2003

Maggie Valley/ Haywood County Real Estate

So you have fallen in love with Maggie Valley, and you’re ready to buy or build your mountain dream home. How do you choose? The answer is: carefully.

What you don’t know and what your realtor isn't required to tell you is that landslides have caused and will continue to result in catastrophic property losses in Maggie Valley and throughout the county. Sometimes they are deadly.

Property values in Wild Acres and in other Haywood County mountain developments will be adversely affected by media reporting of this tragic event. Risks that were never disclosed are now in the public domain.

Wild Acres

It is thought provoking that two homes in one Maggie Valley neighborhood have been destroyed by landslides. Pat (Trish) Jones was killed in December 2003 when her Wild Acres home was buried by a wall of dirt. The cause of the slope failure: a broken water main. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the Maggie Valley Sanitary District. During the trial, the defense argued that “creep” a natural slope occurrence was responsible for the line break. Becky Johnson, who covered the trial for the Smoky Mountain News, wonders in the conclusion of her article, “Landslide death case ends in mistrial” how a new jury will weigh the evidence.
If the jury in the new trial sides with the water department, that, too, could have precedent-setting ramifications….If creep caused the water line to break, which in turn killed Jones’ wife, then liability would fall with whoever granted a permit on an unstable slope. If the case takes that turn, a slope stability assessment could one day be part of the county’s process in granting permits.
Ms. Johnson’s suppositions never came to be. There was no new trial: the matter was settled out of court.

On January 7, 2009 rain set off the second residence-destroying landslide in Wild Acres. The owners, Bruce and Lorraine Donin, had no warning that a 300-foot swift-moving landslide would shatter their home. The Donins’, neighbors Edward and Pamela McAloon, are being blamed for causing the landslide. Documents show that the McAloons were advised several times by Haywood County officials that two areas on their 83 percent slope lot were exhibiting signs of collapse. It is unknown how many other Wild Acres home sites are at risk of landslides

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Wild Acres is a typical mountain residential community. The Haywood County planning department authorized the permit for the subdivision in the 70s. Many of the homes were built at that time, others like the Donins and the McAloons were finished in the past few years. To maximize developer-profits and to enhance tax revenues, Haywood County allowed the dangerous practice of stacking small-lot home sites one on top of the other.

What the Donins, McAloons, and other Wild Acres residents didn’t know when they bought or built their homes, was that soils in this tract of land had been scientifically identified as “poorly suitable for residential development.” (Hazardous land disclosure is not required on North Carolina real estate contracts.)

Marc Pruett, head of the Haywood County erosion control department, told Vicki Hyatt, editor of The Mountaineer, that there have been landslides above and below the Donin home site as well as across the top of the mountain in the Villages of Plott Creek development. The slope failures were triggered when rain soaked unstable soils known as Tuckasegee-Cullasaja complex, ( TvE). The Wild Acres subdivision along with others in Maggie Valley share this highly reactive, expensive to control, soil composition. Resource: “Soil Survey of Haywood County Area.”

Soil surveys were conducted and published to provide critical land-use information. These extensive advisory documents are intended for a variety of purposes. One of the most important: prevention of hazardous land development. For whatever reason Haywood County officials forgot to check their survey book when they issued the permit for Wild Acres.


The Donins now know that their homeowner's policy does not cover their loss. Most people, unfortunately, don't read their contracts. If they did they would see that damage caused by landslides or earth movement of any kind is not covered. This exclusion is applicable to all homeowners’ policies nationwide. Landslide coverage is available through a few single-peril carriers but they will not write insurance in high-risk areas. ( All 21 Western North Carolina mountain counties are designated high risk and the North Carolina Geological Survey is mapping these counties for specific landslide hazards.)


David Wijewickrama, the Donins’ attorney, has been asking questions. He wants to know whether the McAloons or the county or perhaps both parties were responsible for his clients‘ losses. These are pertinent questions and ones that will surely be debated in a courtroom.


The Wild Acres subdivision was developed in the 70s by a company owned by Charles Taylor, former U.S. Representative.

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