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Wednesday, 29 March 2006 00:00

There are many good reasons to get slope ordinances on the books

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There’s no more pressing issue in this region than enacting ordinances to control steep slope development. If we snooze on this one, then everyone from town dwellers to those living in the rural countryside will suffer the consequences for years to come.

Haywood County commissioners were provided this week with a draft of a proposed steep slope ordinance its planning board has developed. Macon County Planning Board Chairman Ronnie Beale says his board may include steep slope provisions in the subdivision ordinance it is currently working on. Buncombe County leaders are already talking about tightening slope regulations passed in 2003.

Every time regulators start discussing laws to control construction on steep slopes or on mountaintops, the development industry almost always responds with a public outcry about the negative economic effects of such ordinances. The truth, though, is that these concerns — though some are pertinent — are outweighed by the need to get some regulations in place.

First on the list of concerns is that these type ordinances will drive up the cost of homes. That’s exactly right. Requiring engineering work and soil tests to be done before mountains are sliced up will cost more money.

But what are the alternatives? Shall we let slides occur that damage lives and property? Should we let homes get pushed off their foundations by shifting soils, then decide to do some engineering work? It just makes sense to make sure homes and humans are safe.

Another common argument is that conducting these tests will add to the problem that housing in the mountains is not affordable for working families. Well, the absurdity of this argument is almost laughable. Those who can’t afford housing are not in the market for custom built homes on steep mountainsides. Yes, we have a serious problem with affordable housing in the mountain region, and it’s an issue community leaders and elected officials must take steps to address. But it’s a different issue altogether.

Finally, there is the argument that too many regulations on developers will stall the strongest part of the mountain economy — the second-home market. There are many ways to spin this belief, but there is almost no evidence to back it up. Ordinances that make building homes on some mountains may indeed slow development in the short run. The question we must ask, though, is if that is a bad thing for the mountain economy.

If we keep building at the current rate, without regulations, the mountainsides will be scooped out and built up in a few years. Slow the growth, control it for safety and aesthetics, and the second-home market for new homes and the re-selling of already built homes may be a steady, continuous part of the local economy for a long time into the future.

In truth we need more than a steep slope ordinance. If mountain leaders don’t do something to protect the tops of mountains from development, then even a slope ordinance will do little to protect the views and scenery that are an integral part of the experience of living in the mountains. Once those views are all built up, that’s when our economy will feel the fallout of lost tourism and lost construction dollars.

Local leaders, especially those in Haywood County, have a real opportunity to take initial steps to protect the mountains, property values and the safety of citizens. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore this very real problem by delaying implementation of a slope ordinance.

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