Western North Carolina Landslides
Friday, January 22, 2010
Lawsuits Expected to Follow Wildflower Development Franklin, NC Landslides
Macon County Digitized Soil Hazards Map—
Additional Macon County landslide hazard maps are
available through the NCGS.
The legal issue: Property owners did not receive fair warning on Wildflower Subdivision Street Disclosure Statements that
—Land in this subdivision is steep slope. Soils above a 15% grade are generally "not suitable” or “poorly suited” for residential development— “Some are too unstable to be used as a foundation for buildings or roads.” References: Western North Carolina Soil Surveys.
Ultima Carolina, LLC—Wildflower Landslides Threaten Property Owners
Wildflower, an Ultima Carolina-designed residential community, has experienced numerous road construction related landslides.
After the November 17, 2009 Wildflower/Thompson Road landslide, state geologists notified Macon County officials of the need to notify residents outside the subdivision that the unstable mass “will probably continue to move.”
During its investigation, the North Carolina Geological Survey found more than twenty other post-landslide areas along the Wildflower development road network that "have the potential for continued movement, especially associated with heavy rainfall events.”
Wildflower is a 2,000-plus acre steep development site with a 30-mile private road system. Two homes have been completed. Lots that were selling for $100,000 to $300,000 are now priced
for $18,000 to $35,000.
Macon County officials have advised the developers, Robert Ullmann and Hardy Smith co-founders of Ultima Carolina LLC, that they are responsible for addressing and repairing the subdivision’s landslide-hazardous road conditions.
Wildflower landslides were caused by a combination of factors: steep slope, (defined as land on or above a 15% grade), unstable colluvial soils and rain. Under Federal Emergency Management Agency definitions, Wildflower is a hazardous-land development.
Macon County, North Carolina Real Estate Hazardous-Land Determination
State emergency management personnel notified Macon County officials in 1998 to exercise caution when granting land disturbing permits for steep slope residential projects. This hazard mitigation directive was required by FEMA.
On September 16, 2004 the Peeks Creek landslide killed five people and destroyed 15 homes. Ultima Carolina commenced Wildflower land sales on November 6, 2004.
When the Wildflower permit was granted to Ultima Carolina in 2004, Macon County had no rules governing land development.
Mr. Ullmann was frank when he told county commissioners five years ago that he had chosen to build an Ultima Carolina community in Macon County because of the absence of land-use regulations.
Stacy Guffey, the Macon County Planning Director at the time Ultima Carolina received their permit, recently acknowledged, “The truth is that when I worked for the county, a lot of us knew there would be problems with those roads. It’s really one of the reasons we felt such urgency to create a subdivision ordinance.”
Macon County Planning Board Fails to Disclose Wildflower Hazardous-Land Conditions
When Ultima Carolina clients purchased lots and signed Wildflower Subdivision Street Disclosure Statements, they did not know, nor were they advised that that they owned and would be responsible for a county-approved landslide-prone road system.
By failing to regulate and disclose the subdivision’s unstable building site conditions, Macon County planning board members have caused financial distress not only to Wildflower property owners but to others within striking distance of the Thompson road embankment failure.
The engineering techniques required to repair and stabilize the slipping road system will likely cost millions. Should Ultima WNC Development, LLC, the entity responsible for correcting the landslide impairments, declare bankruptcy, the obligation will fall on the Wildflower Homeowners’ Association.
It is not known whether Wildflower property owners will take action against Ultima Carolina and the county for failing to disclose material information on sales contracts and Subdivision Street Disclosure Statements but the evidence shows they have an excellent case.