Monday, March 9, 2009

Asheville's Landslide Hazardous Real Estate

Are you planning on buying mountain real estate in the Asheville area? If so, you should read “Homes in harm’s way on many WNC slopes.” This March 1, 2009 Asheville Citizen-Times report details the dangers and financial risks of buying a home in 23 landslide hazardous Western North Carolina counties.

Jon Ostendorff opens his article with the January 7, 2009 Maggie Valley landslide tragedy. It is now known that this property destroying event was predictable and preventable. The causative factors: absence of hazardous land regulation, failure to disclose geologic hazards to prospective buyers and rain on a neighbor’s upslope unstable home site.
The North Carolina Geological Survey states that they have evidence of 861 landslides in Buncombe County. A substantial number of these slope failures were triggered by construction activities. The City of Asheville and Buncombe County planning departments have contributed to property owners’ risks by failing to require hazard studies as a condition for mountain subdivision permits. The following subdivisions were not mapped for landslides: The Cliffs at High Carolina, Ciel, Brittain Knob, Phoenix Cove, Town Mountain Cove, Reynolds Mountain, The Settings of Black Mountain, Versant ( in bankruptcy), Crest Mountain and Southcliff.

Landslide Disasters...Will Asheville Property Owners Become the Next Victims?

The City of Colorado Springs’ multiple 1990s landslide disasters offer examples of what happens to property owners when hazardous land development is controlled by the real estate industry. With full knowledge of the risks, the City of Colorado Springs’ planning department permitted unrestrained residential development in identified hazardous areas.

The consequences of the city’s reckless actions became apparent in the spring of 1995 when a landslide wrecked homes in the expensive Regency Ridge neighborhood. Under public pressure after this prophetic event, the city passed restrictive subdivision guidelines in 1996. New regulations under the Colorado Springs Geologic Hazards Ordinance required that all suspect building sites be assessed for unstable soils and landslides.

These, after the fact, regulations did nothing to protect already built homes from the next series of devastating landslides. In the spring of 1999 rain set off landslides in dozens of neighborhoods throughout the city. As a result Colorado Springs was declared a federal disaster area.

Hazard maps show that perhaps 5,000 homes, many priced at half a million dollars and more,(2000 valuations) have been built on landslide-probable slopes.

Donna Fair, director of the city Office of Emergency Management, said after the disaster declaration that at least 62 Colorado Springs homeowners have suffered anywhere from $40 million to $88 million in damage from moving soils, but the actual numbers could be far higher. Many home owners remain silent out of fear for their property values.

If you have any doubt about the likelihood of landslides causing extreme property damage in Buncombe County or elsewhere in Western North Carolina you should read Bob Campbell’s article, "Risky Business, The politics of landslides-and building on landslides-in Colorado Springs." The culprits are the same.

Please remember as you weigh the risks that come with slope-side ownership you will be self-insuring for all landslide/earth movement related property damage. This hazard is not covered by your homeowners policy.

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