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News Planning board ponders steep slope changes

Diamond Falls residents seek help for subpar road.

Planning Board members met last Thursday to discuss making changes to the subdivision ordinance, a policy geared towards regulating and promoting responsible growth and development within Macon County.

Macon County adopted the original subdivision ordinance in June 2008, and since then, the ordinance has been amended on two separate occasions.

The Planning Board is taking up the ordinance once again, with the intent on eliminating the ambiguities that exist in the policy and adding regulations that are responsive to the county’s future needs. The revisions emanate from recommendations made by local developers, surveyors, and citizens.

One issue discussed by the board members deals with road problems in the county’s subdivisions. According to County Planner Derek Roland, the ordinance should do more in requiring developers to build more roads on cut-slopes and displace less fields with vulnerable soil when constructing roads. Many of the problems in Macon County stem from tributary roads, or roads that break off from the main thoroughfare in certain subdivisions.

“One of the problems is the compromised field slopes,” said Roland. “The slope development committee uncovered this, too. These roads that spread off of the main artery roads, they almost compromise terrain because they are trying to get to the top of the mountain. That’s where you are going to have the most compromised soil that you are putting the road on,” said Roland.

To alleviate the problem, Roland recommended that the board consider revisions to reduce the width of roads in subdivisions with eight lots or less. Also, the revision includes a length requirement to prevent unnecessary roads to nowhere. To avoid potential problems with EMS and fire crews in the case of an emergency, the revision widens the pullouts and implements a turning radius to accommodate possible hazards.

The county’s chief fire inspector, Jimmy Teem, reviewed the proposed revisions and offered his approval of the potential changes. Other proposed changes to the subdivision ordinance encompass compaction standards, vested rights issues, ambiguities with the county’s surety bond policy, and additional safety mitigation efforts.

The Planning Board members will discuss the proposed revisions and other possible amendments to the existing subdivision ordinance at their next meeting.

Before the meeting concluded, Kristen Oliver, who reside in the Diamond Falls subdivision, voiced her concerns to members of the Planning Board about the accountability of the subdivision’s developer. Kristen and Bruce Oliver bought a home in the community about a year ago, when the subdivision was in the Phase II development stage.

Oliver believed the road leading to her lot would eventually be paved, because of the real estate advertisements about the community and from what she was told by a representative at last October’s event sale. Oliver was comfortable buying the lot because of the surety bond the developer had with Macon County.

“We were told that we had assurance because Macon County held a bond on the improvements. We relied on that and probably would not have bought if it hadn’t been for the fact that we knew or we felt like we could rely on the government more so than the developer, even though we had done due diligence and tried to research the developer,” explained Oliver.

“It turns out the developer who was listed as the developer really wasn’t the developer,” claimed Oliver. “The developer is a real murky issue in this situation,” she explained. She further described her frustrations about not knowing exactly who the developer was.

Oliver and her husband expressed their criticism regarding the inadequate roads in the Diamond Falls area, fearing that EMS crews would have a difficult time trying to get to their house if an emergency were to occur. Oliver’s husband recently suffered a stroke, which lends credence to their assertion that adequate roads are a major concern.

“It’s been over a year and nothing has been done. My road is pretty much mud in front of my house,” stated Oliver. “We wanted to retire in Franklin and now it doesn’t look like that’s going to be possible. Our story is not as bad as the story of some people that have bought up there that can’t even get to their lots. Because I can’t even describe the road going up to their lot as a road,” she said.

Diamond Falls requires an annual homeowner’s association meeting in its bylaws, but according to Oliver, no meeting has taken place. “We can’t find anybody to express our concerns to,” she said. Oliver and her husband said that people in the community were told that paving would be conducted by the developer. However, no timeframe was established for the paving project.

Oliver quoted a recent real-estate buyer’s guide that described the Diamond Falls community, which wrote that the community would be equipped with wide-paved roads and underground utilities that included rails and fiber-optic cable. “When I saw this I called up the architect who designed my house and told him this is where I really wanted to go,” said Oliver. “Where is this community in Franklin.” The Olivers claimed they did not get water or underground utilities until several months after purchasing the lot.

Community Management Associates, an outside agency who is associated with the developer, told Oliver that they did not plan to pave the roads until they sold every lot in the area, and according to her, there are still 30 vacant lots in the Diamond Falls community. “I don’t know if we will ever see roads in our lifetime,” she said.

LC Jones, a representative of the Diamond Falls developer, said they plan on paving the road sometime next year. “We met with Mrs. Oliver and her husband personally, and I told them we just couldn’t pave that strip of the road this year,” he said. “We don’t have the money in our budget to do so, but we did tell her that we will try to complete the paving process sometime next year.”

Roland spoke with the Olivers on a number of occasions prior to last Thursday’s meeting. He is still in the process of mitigating the conflict between the developer and the Olivers. Roland did say that Macon County held a bond on the Diamond Falls subdivision and that the bond was still active.

“We do hold a bond on Phase II and that bond is still active,” said Roland. “That bond is in place to ensure that section of the subdivision meets the minimum requirements of our subdivision ordinance,” Roland stated. Macon County’s bond on Phase II of Diamond Falls will expire in November. The county can make a claim on the bond after it expires.

Unfortunately, Macon County does not have the power to hold realtors accountable for inaccurate advertising, nor does Macon County’s subdivision ordinance require every subdivision to have paved roads.

“Diamond Falls meets all of the requirements of the subdivision ordinance,” said Jones. “We are going to do our best to upkeep and maintain that road until we can pave it. We’ve had a few problems in that community but we don’t get a lot of complaints at all. We do our best to take care of the people there. The event rep said all the roads will be paved, and they will be. It may take a while. We hope to get that particular strip completed sometime next year,” he said.

The Olivers purchased their lot last October during an event sale. Jones stated that they sold 74 lots and closed on 68 of them. “It’s really good news for the area. It’s brought jobs to local construction people who needed work,” he said.

Roland met with the general contractor of the Diamond Falls community on Monday. Planning Board Chairman Lewis Penland advised the Olivers to contact the North Carolina Real Estate Commission to see if they could pursue false-advertisement litigation.

“We need to keep raising this bar up. If we’re going to continue to get people to retire here, we’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee. That’s our industry,” said Penland.

Kristen Oliver’s statements to the planning board did raise a few eyebrows. “We’ve got to at least bark loud enough to where somebody is afraid of the dog. This is not the only time this has happened, it’s just these are the only people who had the courage to come and talk to us,” said County Commissioner and liaison to the Planning Board Bobby Kuppers.


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