Friday, October 14, 2011

The Ridges of Franklin NC Developer Dismisses Wildflower Hazardous-Land Data

Wildflower, an Ultima Carolina LLC Subdivision Development 2004

Federal officials [FEMA] designated all Western North Carolina counties landslide-hazardous in 1998 so Robert Ullmann and Hardy Smith, Ultima Carolina co-partners, should have known that the Macon County, NC Wildflower subdivision tract was not suitable or safe for residential development. This risk assessment was based primarily on soil survey data.

 Ultima Carolina Communities :  Wildflower, Avalon, Black Bear Falls and Fontana Trace were all sited on unstable ground.

SouthWings photos of Wildflower Subdivision landslides
 Franklin, NC

Mountain slope subdivision development has left Macon County property owners with "unstable roads and house sites, unlivable homes, and hundreds of foreclosed lots...." Lewis Penland, Macon County Planning Board Chairman, December, 2010

The Ridges of Franklin NC, a Leed Enterprises LLC Subdivision Development 2011

Leed Enterprises LLC purchased a 500-plus acre parcel of the under-foreclosure Ultima Carolina 2,200-acre Wildflower Subdivision tract in June 2011. Land sales for the company's new subdivision,The Ridges, were initiated on October 1.

Wildflower home sites originally sold for $100,000-$300,000, whereas The Ridges of Franklin lots are priced from $14,000 to $30,000.  Leed Enterprises, a newly-formed entity, is managed by L. C. Jones a local paving contractor.

The Smoky Mountain News reported that Leed Enterprises paid the Ultima Carolina lien holder, BB&T, $1 million for The Ridges acreage. This acquisition came with well-publicized landslide issues.

 Several months later as part of its sales promotion, the company issued this disclaimer: "Wildflower Development Franklin, NC No Longer Threatened by Landslides; Developer Builds New Roads in Subdivision of Resort Community." 

Wildflower Landslide Report

Following the November 2009 Wildflower Subdivision /Thompson Road landslide, state geologists identified twenty other endangerment areas along the 30-mile private road system. This news had an negative impact on the project's viability: sales ceased, property values declined and mortgages went into foreclosure.

Causative Landslide Factors: Soils and North Carolina General Statute 136-102.6

Macon County, NC Soil Survey findings reveal that soil compositions, such as those found throughout the Wildflower development area are unstable and "poorly-suited or unsuited" for residential development. The Federal Housing Authority classifies these types of steep-slope erodible soils as adverse building site conditions.

In addition to the imprimatur of the Macon County Planning Board for the Wildflower subdivision, state law allowed, Ultima Carolina, the original developer to construct a 30-mile road network that did not meet minimum state Department of Transportation criteria. Even when a developer opts to build to standards there is no guarantee that the state will ever assume responsibility for the roads. [General Statute 136-102.6.]

The Ridges of Franklin, NC: Property Owners' Financial Considerations

The Wildflower road system was constructed on unstable soils and without state and county supervision. These faults pose outsize risks for property owners since they, not the developer, are ultimately responsible for maintaining the subdivision's infrastructure. Case in point: Alarka Creek Properties Homeowners Association lawsuit .

Homeowners suffering earth movement property loss are forced to self-insure as this hazard is not covered by the insurance industry.

Leed Enterprises LLC: False Advertising Practices

Regardless of the developer's claim, the truth is The Ridges of Franklin, NC lots and roads are sited on likely-to-fail slopes. As the following research shows, the landslide risk is not confined to the Wildflower Subdivision. This unstable-land hazard affects all Macon County, NC mountain real estate.

Macon County, NC Mountain Real Estate Landslide Hazard Research
Fig. 4. Shaded relief map of Macon County, NC and known locations of debris flows (white circles)
from the complete NCGS database (as of August 2006). The shaded relief map was constructed from a
6 m pixel resolution light-detecting and ranging (LiDAR) digital elevation model (Wooten et al., 2007/2008). Source

Macon County, North Carolina Landslide Hazard Maps—NCGS

Macon County, NC Landslide Fatalities

NCGS—Peeks Creek, NC Landslide Photos
The Peeks Creek debris flow, September 2004, killed
five Macon County, NC residents and destroyed fifteen

Macon County, NC Underground "Big Slow-Moving" Landslide

Photos of Craftsman's Village construction site and view of Boggan
landslide property damage—Macon County News

The property just beyond the bulldozer, as indicated by the box, was allegedly affected by land excavation performed by developer Joseph Moretti in the “toe” of the mountain directly below the property. Blasting throughout the last year may have triggered more land displacement. The property owner claims that the condemnation of his property was caused by a “manmade disaster,” instead of factors that result in natural erosion.Macon County News

Underground earth-movement events, also known as weathered-rock slides, have been reported in Yancey, Jackson and Haywood Counties.

Macon County, NC Wildflower Hazardous-Land Subdivision Permit

Macon, like many other Western North Carolina landslide-prone counties, has declined to establish meaningful regulatory safeguards for those purchasing mountain subdivision real estate. The Macon County Commissioners anti-regulation position is not expected to change even though some planners disagree.

Mr. Penland is not the only person on the Macon County Planning Board to express criticism over the resumed development in the Wildflower tract. Susan Ervin, another member of the board, said:
We worked hard to get sensible slope development regulation — but it didn’t happen. Now, the lots are back on the sale block....

What assurance do we have that the development will be done well this time? What control do we have? Do the people looking at lots up there have any idea about the North Carolina Geological Survey Slope Movement Hazard Maps? Do they know there are unstable soils up there? Down here in the valley, we know it.”

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