Polk planning board chooses 25-percent slope as threshold for engineering studiesPublished 5:36pm Monday, August 13, 2012
Vote split 4-3
The Polk County Planning Board has chosen a 25-percent slope as the threshold for requiring an engineer to conduct studies prior to building.
The planning board met Thursday, Aug. 9 and approved the 25-percent threshold in Article 24 of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), which deals with regulations for steep slopes. Members Lisa Krolak, David Smith, Susan Welsh and Harry Petersen voted in favor of the 25-percent threshold while members Bill Ennis, Wayne Horne and Lee Bradley voted against.
County engineer Dave Odom attended the meeting to answer questions.
Odom reviewed studies done on a home he engineered in Polk County.
Ennis said the planning board is wrestling with what percentage of slope to set as the trigger for some additional requirements and asked Odom’s opinion on what that slope should be. The studies required at the threshold Polk County ultimately chooses will include a geotechnical analysis and report and a hydrology report.
Odom said Thursday he was literally pulling a number out of a hat, but if the slope is less than 20 percent he feels there’s no need to call on an engineer unless there are other issues such as drainage.
“That’s just pulling a number out of the hat,” Odom said.
Ennis said, unfortunately, that’s what the planning board has to do.
The planning board has been discussing what percentage of slope should require an engineer since receiving a recommended unified development ordinance (UDO) from the UDO committee earlier this year. The UDO committee recommended that the county take out elevation requirements from the county’s mountainside and ridgeline protection ordinance (MRPO) and choose a slope factor instead.
The county’s MRPO restricts any commercial building at elevations 1,650 feet and above, which includes all of Saluda Township.
The UDO committee recommended by a split vote that the percentage of slope requiring an engineer be 30 percent or above.
Ennis, Horne and Bradley said they would be comfortable with the 30 percent threshold, but the majority of planning board members disagreed and approved 25 percent as the planning board’s recommendation to the Polk County Board of Commissioners.
Ennis said out of 140 incidences of slope failures in North Carolina, there was only one occurrence at a slope of between 20 and 29 percent. Ennis said he thinks 20 percent is a little radical. [See page13 for a letter to the editor from Ennis.]
“The threshold I’m concerned about is when the owner needs to start paying for an engineer,” said Ennis.
Smith said in his research of 21 other areas with ordinances most stopped development completely at 25 percent. He questioned where the 30-percent recommendation came from and called it an arbitrary number.
Welsh said from Smith’s research, it looks like 60 percent of the 21 ordinances set the slope threshold at 25 percent.
“There again that’s a significant number of ordinances choosing 25 percent,” said Welsh.
Smith added that 98 percent of the 21 places set the threshold at 25 percent or lower and that he randomly searched steep slope ordinances using Google and chose the first 21 he found.
A majority of residents making public comments regarding the recommended slope threshold said they were pleased the board chose 25 percent.
Resident Bob Tobey said he is very pleased the majority chose the lower number. He said he and his wife own land that can be developed and that is why he wants a lower number.
“I think if we have less homes on our hillsides we will have more valuable property,” Tobey said.
He said our local people are smart and aren’t building on 25 percent slopes anyway. He said the people coming to Polk County looking to build a mountain home want a little acreage and a view if they can get it, and they don’t want that view of the mountain to be covered with homes.
Mill Spring resident Jay Davies mentioned a couple in Macon County who left Florida because of a hurricane and thought they’d be safe in their mountain home. He said the Macon County house slid off in the rain and they died.
“We don’t want anyone in Polk County to suffer that,” Davies said.
Polk County Commissioner Renée McDermott read an email from Ruby and Jerry Drew. The Drews said they were victims of erosion from a building site in Asheville.
“It is better to put protections in place than fix after the fact,” the Drews said. “It was a real mess to clean up.”
Lake Adger resident Sky Conard said erosion is a problem at Lake Adger. She mentioned the eroding banks of the lake and the filling up of the county’s reservoir. Conard said the depth of the water at the dam used to be 87 feet and it is now at 37 feet. She also mentioned it took rescuers a long time to find the most recent drowning victims at Lake Adger because of the thick debris in the bottom of the lake.
“If the USGS (United States Geological Survey) is telling us that 25 percent is a threshold then this is what we need to use,” Conard said.
Dave Maxwell and Burt Baer also said they agreed with the 25-percent threshold, saying the county’s resources need to be protected.
William Day was the only person from the public to disagree with the planning board’s decision. He said the county has a system in place called a building inspections department that is quite efficient and doesn’t take risks. He said if it’s not in their two-inch-thick codebook the inspectors won’t allow it, and the system Polk County has works.
The next planning board meeting will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 15 at 5 p.m. at the Womack building in Columbus. The board plans to review all the changes to the UDO draft made so far and could vote on the majority of the document this week.
The planning board also has a meeting scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 22 and could also hold a joint workshop with commissioners to review the draft.
The planning board will send a recommended draft UDO to commissioners for final approval. Commissioners have set Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. as a public hearing and special meeting to hear public comments and possibly adopt the majority of the UDO. The planning board has decided to work separately on Article 25, which deals with ridgelines.