Sunday, February 1, 2009

Western North Carolina's Hazardous Real Estate: "Buyers Simply Don't Know to Beware"

Photographs of the home on 93 Wildcat Run Road before and after the January 7, 2009 landslide.

Disasters are usually short-term news events so most people wouldn't know that landslides have caused death and financial ruin in Western North Carolina. During the September 2004 state of emergency, lives were lost in the Peeks Creek landslide and homes were damaged and destroyed throughout a fifteen county area. These widespread disasters did not prompt regulation: Western North Carolina's hazardous land still remains a "build anywhere" real estate haven. Without constraint “anyone with a bull dozer and backhoe” can carve out a mountain subdivision.

There can be no debate that Western North Carolina's mountain real estate is landslide-hazardous. The Ivan/Frances precipitated landslide catastrophes were not unexpected events. Federal and state emergency management professionals, geologists, and soil scientists have issued voluminous reports stating that Western North Carolina’s mountains slopes are unsuitable, high-risk, building locations. The insurance industry made the same assessment years ago. Homeowners policies universally exclude all property damage caused by earth movement. Property owners seeking specialty landslide insurance will find that it is not obtainable in already classified high-risk areas.

Legislators have been privy to all of this documentation and certainly can't have forgotten their request for $72 million in federal disaster funds. The question is, why have they have failed to provide any measure of control over hazardous-land development?

A few concerned lawmakers attempted to address this matter in 2007 but their efforts were rebuffed.

House Bill 1756 “Safe Artificial Slope Construction Act”

On January 2, 2008 Representative Ray Rapp spoke with Becky Johnson of the Smoky Mountain News about his inability to gather support for safety regulations and real estate landslide disclosure. Rapp explained that he does not support the "caveat emptor" business model that has been fashionable during Western North Carolina’s mountain development heyday. Rapp said that buyers simply don't know to beware. "All they see is a million-dollar view. They are looking at the view not at their feet-and what is underneath their feet could be highly detrimental to their safety." Please see "Rapp tries to round up support for slope development bill."


Haywood County Builders Association

In an October 2007 News Letter Ron DeSimone, President of the Haywood Builders Association, shared his concerns about the impact of HB 1756 on his industry.
Like it or not, what the government does and doesn't do has a direct and fundamental impact on your business. Whether you are a builder or associate member, you should be aware that your industry is under assault. "No growth" groups and radical consumer advocates have advanced proposals which--had they been enacted--would have made it harder, if not impossible, for you to make a living. The governmental affairs staffs of both your national and state association, with your help, have been able to derail many of these bad ideas. All of these decisions were made by local officials or those appointed by them. More of these "bad ideas" are coming! Fortunately both in the U.S. Congress and in our North Carolina General Assembly, our industry has many friends....Landslides and environmental issues are fairly rare and most builders and developers are trying hard to create desirable communities that promote the mountain environment. This is not to diminish the gravity of the problem, or to say that some regulation isn't needed; however, it is important to put things in perspective.
North Carolina Association of Realtors

In April 2007 Rick Zechini, director of governmental affairs for the North Carolina Association of Realtors, sent advisory “we need to stop HB 1756” e-mails to members throughout the state. Mr. Zechini noted that if enacted the “Safe Artificial Construction Act” would be costly to the industry. His objections: landslide real estate disclosure and mandated uniform safe slope construction standards.

Realtors’ Responsibility

Even though the North Carolina legislature has been unwilling to act and the Office of the Attorney General has declined to interfere, their inactions do not absolve Realtors from the legal responsibility of disclosing the material fact that all Western North Carolina mountain real estate is subject to uninsurable landslide property losses.

In case the import of this issue isn’t crystal clear, North Carolina legislators and Realtors should read the news report concerning the January 7, 2009 Maggie Valley landslide.

Cause of the tragedy: unstable soils.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Henderson County does have a steep slope law - why is it not covered.

Lynne I realize that you purchased land under Wolf Laurel and they are doing a terrible job with the mountain but that does not mean you need to badmouth every single development in WNC. Some are doing a good job. I know you moved here and now want no one else to but that is not realistic.

Not like it matters you will just delete this comment like all the rest.

A least be honest with everyone about who you are and why you are doing this.