Friday, July 24, 2009

Buncombe County Fails to Disclose Landslide/Wildfire Hazard Real Estate Maps

City of Portland, Oregon

Photo/Burlingame Landslide—The Oregonian—October 8, 2008
PortlandMaps—6438 Burlingame Place—landslide real estate map

Buncombe County, North Carolina

Starnes Cove Landslide—NCGS—September 2004

Landslide Hazard Map—Town of Woodfin—April 2009

Landslide reports show parcel count and value for parcels in the unstable area and the upper threshold area.

Wildfire Hazard Map—Town of Montreat—April 2009

Wildfire Reports show parcel count and value for parcels at high, medium high or greater, and medium or greater risk levels. Hazardous-land data compiled by the Renaissance Computing Institute.

Disaster Maps Reveal Buncombe County Real Estate Hazards

Federal and state emergency management agencies expect disastrous events such as landslides, wildfires and flooding to impact major residential areas in Buncombe County. These forecasts have prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to require real estate risk blue prints as part of the county’s hazard mitigation planning.

The Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) has designed and installed computer software that is able to locate by address all naturally hazardous real property locations. Although new to Buncombe County, these real estate risk determinate programs are in place in other multi-hazard municipalities.

Looking to buy real estate in the city of Portland? Type in an address, such as 6438 SW Burlingame Place- Hillsdale, on the PortlandMaps website and you will find that this property is rated for landslides, earthquakes and wildfires.

Why was this address chosen? There are two reasons: the first is to illustrate the sophistication of the PortlandMaps system and the second is to demonstrate the accuracy of geological findings. On the morning of October 8, 2008, a portion of the Burlingame lot collapsed and a neighborhood was devastated. The cause of the Burlingame landslide: use of a sprinkler system on unstable slopes.

Renaissance Computing Institute — Hazardous-Land Maps

Emergency personnel along with county, city and town planners were briefed in March 2009 on the use of the Buncombe County Multi-Hazard Risk Tool and its ability to generate real estate hazard/risk maps similar to those of Portland. Hazardous-land risk identification tools were installed in Buncombe County computer systems in April 2009.

Homes in Harm’s Way— Landslide Investigations

In March 2009 two newspapers, one national and the other regional, reported on the dire consequences of hazardous-land real estate development. The New York Times and the Asheville Citizen-Times found that thousands of homeowners across the county will face significant uninsurable landslide property losses.

Buncombe County Government

Buncombe County officials were informed in 1998 that much of the land under their jurisdiction was extremely hazardous and thus unsuitable for residential development. Planning boards throughout the county ignored these emergency management hazardous-land advisories and subdivision permits were granted without regard to public safety and homeowners’ financial security.

Was this risk information ever shared with the public via a Hazardous-Land Disclosure Statement? The answer is no.

Even though Buncombe County officials have refused to acknowledge or publish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mandated landslide/wildfire maps, the insurance and mortgage industries, two major stakeholders, are reconsidering their financial risks based on these reports. (Flood Hazard Maps are viewable on the Buncombe County GIS Property Information System.)

Insurance Industry

Wildfires in mountain subdivisions are a serious concern to the insurance industry. It is not generally known that insurers are reducing or restricting coverage in high risk areas. For additional information on this issue please read M. P. McQueen’s article, “Where Wildfires Burn, Insurers Get Cold Feet.” — Wall Street Journal—August 14, 2008

Mortgage Industry

Loans for homes built in areas susceptible to earth movement (reactive soils) are being subjected to new loss-reduction underwriting requirements. For instance, homeowners in the Blue Oaks subdivision in Rancho Murieta, Ca., refinancing requests are predicated on a $7,000 engineering study. Reference: “Cracked Houses: What the Boom Built” M. P. McQueen— The Wall Street Journal— July 1, 2009.

When purchasing real estate in a disaster-prone county; choose wisely, ask questions and most importantly obtain professional advice.

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