- published 3/27 (Larry) - unpublished ?

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News Commissioners delay approving construction standards

Macon County Commissioners voted to take seven constructions standards up for discussion when they reconvened last week for a continuation of October’s regularly scheduled meeting. Commissioners discussed altering construction standards, which encompassed the minimum allowed standards, with the intention of providing safe and adequate protection while serving to decrease liability to people involved in all areas of development, under consideration and further review.

According to Lewis Penland, Chairman of the planning board, the proposed construction standards were taken directly from the recommended Safe Slope Development Ordinance which was developed by the Safe Slope Development Workgroup. “The workgroup—made up of a grading contractor, a builder and developer, a planner, a geologist, a hydrologist, a realtor, and a planning board member—spent two years studying slope development issues and taking testimony from a variety of professionals in the building, construction and engineering fields,” said Penland.

If constructions standards are approved, the county would need to purchase a nuclear density gauge estimated at $6,550.Macon County Commissioners voted to take seven constructions standards up for discussion when they reconvened last week for a continuation of October’s regularly scheduled meeting. Commissioners discussed altering construction standards, which encompassed the minimum allowed standards, with the intention of providing safe and adequate protection while serving to decrease liability to people involved in all areas of development, under consideration and further review.

According to Lewis Penland, Chairman of the planning board, the proposed construction standards were taken directly from the recommended Safe Slope Development Ordinance which was developed by the Safe Slope Development Workgroup. “The workgroup—made up of a grading contractor, a builder and developer, a planner, a geologist, a hydrologist, a realtor, and a planning board member—spent two years studying slope development issues and taking testimony from a variety of professionals in the building, construction and engineering fields,” said Penland.

Members of the county's planning board were on hand to answer commissioner’s questions and to consider further changes that need to be made to ensure safe development for all citizens.

“The county has a responsibility to protect the property owners from substandard development,” said Penland. “Already, bad development is costing contractors, costing the banks, costing realtors, and costing the county jobs because people who might otherwise invest in Macon County, don't feel like their investment in land is secure, and they don't feel like they have all of the best available information to make a wise decision.”

Penland noted that although the constructions standards up for discussion will not solve every issue, it is the first step in addressing several of the prominent detrimental problems affecting development within the community. “As a county we invite people here to invest their money, build their homes, and live out their lives,” he said. “In return, it is our duty as a county to protect their rights. We can do that by enacting and enforcing basic public safeguards like the ones you have before you tonight.”

Commissioners heard expert testimony from three private sector engineers, who have continued to work with the county as volunteers to aid in the Safe Slope ordinance as well as the construction standards, regarding the definitions and seven standards approved by the planning board in early August.

Dr. Dan Marks, a licensed engineer in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma, spoke to his more than 40 years experience as a Geotechnical Engineer to base his recommendation to the commissioners. Marks encouraged commissioners not to minimize the constructions standards beyond what was up for discussion. “The standard you have right here is about as close to nothing as you can get,” said Marks. “If you water it down any further, you aren't going to have anything that is worth having.”

Marks urged commissioners to hold off approving the constructions standards until the county adopted a safe slope ordinance, a topic of discussion which still remains controversial throughout the county. “You got the cart before the horse,” noted Marks, “I would have rather have seen you pass the slope ordinance first, so that you had an ordinance on the books so that you could address the construction standards to the ordinance.”

Commissioners Ron Haven and Ronnie Beale noted that in order to be in compliance with the proposed construction standards, the county would have to determine if they want to be liable for overseeing the compaction tests that need to be done during development. “What equipment, and at what cost, are you going to have to have to test this?” asked Haven.

According to Ronnie Dilbeck, who specializes in soil stability analysis and geotechnical services for sub-surface investigations and soil compaction tests, a certified technician would be required to operate the equipment needed.

Macon County Planner Derek Roland informed commissioners that the planning board had priced the materials needed to satisfy the construction standards. “We priced a nuclear density gauge to do this testing at about $6,550, said Roland. “The operator would need to be trained and certified before being permitted to use the equipment to complete the soil compaction testing.”

Beale expressed concern about the liability and cost that would be associated with the county in order to obtain a professional to complete the testing. According to Penland, that responsibility would fall to Derek Roland, the County Planner, so no additional cost outside of his salary and expenditures needed certify Roland to use the equipment.

Commissioner Kevin Corbin began addressing the last construction standard which states “These General Requirements may be modified by a Design Professional in the related field provided acceptable technical justification is submitted to the administrator.” According to Corbin, he understood standard number seven to mean that if a citizen was unable to meet any of the six previously mentioned standards, development would still be possible if a design professional recommended the alteration to the administrator.

Commissioners expressed their concern on the definition of a design professional and that according to the standard, the county would not be able to veto any recommendation of the professional in regards to development. “What is acceptable technical justification,” said Commissioner Bob Kuppers. “I think what number seven is intending to say is that you have to show me that you talked to this guy [a design professional].”

According to the definitions previously approved by the Planning Board, a Design Professional is : A Civil Engineer, Geotechnical Engineer, Land Surveyor, Architect, Landscape Architect, or Professional Geologist currently registered in the State of North Carolina.

According to Marks, the very last standard was implemented to ensure supervision of the development and that the right professional is assigned to their respective field of expertise to monitor development.

Penland urged commissioners to act quickly in considering the standards and to keep the best interest of citizens in mind. “Don't be distracted by the same old political rhetoric that has dominated the conversation surrounding this issue,” he said. This isn't about ideology. It's not about winning some political game. This is about real people, people who expect and deserve for their county to do right by them. We have an opportunity to do that tonight. Don't let that opportunity pass you by. We are counting on you.”

After a lengthy discussion, Chairman Brian McClellan noted that the board needed to take more time to consult additional experts and to evaluate the language and definitions presented with the construction standards before reaching a final decision. The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8 at the Macon County Courthouse.





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published: 10/18/2013
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