Bills usurping local control are foolhardy

GOP about-face is puzzling
May 09, 2013

Senate Bill 612, a measure that would nullify certain local rules or ordinances that are more stringent than those at the state or federal level, has passed first reading and is headed for the committee on regulatory reform.

The undisguised state power grab is one of many bills being considered in Raleigh that assumes a “one size fits all” philosophy is in the state’s best interest. The new trend is a puzzling one since the Republican Party has long championed local control. The about-face now that the party power has solidified in Raleigh can have long-term ripple effects throughout the state.

In particular, House Bill 612 could halt the ability of Haywood and other western counties to proactively address deadly slope failures associated with mountainside development.

For sure there have been plenty of landslides where no development has occurred, but there have also been plenty of failures associated with road-building and construction activity.

Soil, topographical and geological surveys can identify slide-prone areas. Haywood is one of the counties that uses this information as a tool when it comes to permitting proposed developments on steep slopes. Permits are only sometimes denied. More often, those wanting to build on a particular parcel or acreage can accomplish their goal through additional engineering or repositioning the construction on a particular parcel.

Experience in Haywood County tells us slope failures pose life-threatening dangers and significant property losses to those who build on unsuitable slopes and can also damage those directly below. Recall the Rich Cove slide where downhill property owners still haven’t been made whole after a piece of the mountainside tore down the mountain landing in their homes and yards. Then there is the sad case of homeowners off Lickstone Road in Waynesville who were forced to vacate their beautiful homes after cracks began forming in the foundations and the road developed wide cracks. In this case, and often when there is a slope failure, insurance policies don’t cover the loss.

While these developments occurred before slope development standards were instituted, they indicate the dangers of ignoring safety issues as they relate to building in the mountains. Haywood leaders decided years ago that much heartache could be avoided by adopting basic building/construction standards for building on steep slopes.  It wasn’t a tool to fix past actions, but it does address issues going forward.

Heavy-handed state action to pre-empt this and other common-sense local measures with the goal of achieving a “business friendly” reputation is not only short-sighted, but foolhardy. Mountain counties have needs that are different from the coastal and Piedmont areas. Elected leaders who have a birdseye view of on-the-ground conditions in their own counties are the ones best-suited to make the decisions.

The General Assembly is considering a measure that can undermine all the local planning board meetings, public hearings and proactive measures that led to Haywood’s slope ordinance. This bill needs to die a quiet death, and citizens need to make their voices heard to ensure that it does.