All Press Releases for October 21, 2007

"Is it Safe to Build Here?" Western North Carolina's Landslide Mapping Program

The Financial Risks of Buying Land in Western North Carolina. A California landslide devastated a La Jolla neighborhood in early October 2007...the Peeks Creek landslide in Western North Carolina claimed lives and homes in September 2004.

    /24-7PressRelease/ - MARS HILL, NC, October 21, 2007 - A California landslide devastated a La Jolla neighborhood in early October 2007...the Peeks Creek landslide in Western North Carolina claimed lives and homes in September 2004.

Slope failures in California and North Carolina are common and continual threats to lives and property. Both states have experienced repeated catastrophic landslide events and both have received federal disaster declarations. How have these two states responded to natural hazard events?

In 1998 the state of California passed an urgency statute in recognition of the fact that landslides and other natural hazards posed significant dangers to the residents of the state. The Natural Hazards Disclosure Act recognized that the existing regulatory unconformity and lack of oversight were allowing developers to build on unstable ground and that these actions were substantially increasing the probability of more disasters. To reduce the possibility of slope failures the state defined natural hazard landslide areas as zones of required investigation. For safety reasons development permits in natural hazard areas are granted only after professional geologic site specific studies.

Equally important the California legislation established an immediate new risk classification for all real property sold in natural hazard areas. For the first time interested buyers were advised of the material risks with a pre-sale "show and tell" disclosure statement. The statement provided clear warning to all investors that the purchase of land in natural hazard zones, "May limit owner's ability to develop property, obtain insurance, or to receive assistance after a disaster."

In 1998 the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management classified all 21 western counties at elevated risk for the dangers of landslides. Today the North Carolina legislature is studying the issues of safe slope regulation and risk disclosure while many developers are building homes on untested and very likely unstable land. The disastrous 15 county Western North Carolina slope failures of September 2004 were not a unique, once in a life time happening. The state is cognizant of the Jackson County landslides, the extensive landslide property damage inside Mountain Air Resort, and the condemnation of the Hunters Crossing homes. These are the stories that have make the news but they are just a small representation of regional homeowners' costly battles with eroding unstable slopes.

The public should be aware that Western North Carolina slope property is a definable risky asset regardless of whether this material information is disclosed on current real estate contracts. For investment protection, prospective buyers of individual homes should ask the seller of the property to provide an engineering report that states the site is stable. Sellers are not qualified to make these assessments. Slope stability can only be determined by state licensed engineers and geologists. The costs for site specific geologic stability analyses are affordable, generally less than $1000.

It isn't clear whether large land developers such as Reynolds Mountain, The Cliffs, Scenic Wolf and others are providing due diligence for their expansive mountain slope communities. Concerned buyers of said property should request certification from the developer that all home sites, roads, and common areas have been professionally examined for slope stability. Developers often complain that the costs for determining slope stability are prohibitive but this is not true. The Town of Boone was professionally mapped for $20,000.

Since the institution of the February 2005 Western North Carolina "Is it Safe to Build Here?" mapping program only one series of landslide maps have been completed. As intended these maps show high to low risk building locations. The October 2006 Macon County maps also show that a significant number of homes have been built in unsuitable and unsafe areas. These property locations are now in the public domain and this will potentially affect the future value of these now identified risky properties.

Even though state regulators and legislators have declined to require disclosure of material risks, those involved in the sale of Western North Carolina real estate should consider whether they have a common law obligation to reveal the region's high risk landslide designation, the absence of insurance, and the existence of the landslide mapping program.

About Carolina Concerns
Carolina Concerns is a Western North Carolina landslide advisory company

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Lynne Vogel
Carolina Concerns
Mars Hill, North Carolina
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