Macon County’s Planning Board voted in unison to approve the final plat of the Clubhouse/Cabin Phase of the Wildflower Subdivision during its regular scheduled meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17. Although several members of the planning board believe there are problems with some components of the subdivision ordinance, they all agreed that the developer of the Wildflower subdivision had met every requirement laid out in the county’s existing ordinance.
The planning board approved the preliminary plat of the clubhouse/cabin phase of the Wildflower Subdivision in early September. County Planner Derek Roland and officials from the planning department then made two on-site visits to the subdivision to ensure that the developer was complying with county regulations, and to make more recommendations for the developer to meet in order to obtain approval for the subdivision’s final plat.
Upon making an on-site visit on Sept. 30, Roland directed L.C. Jones, a co-developer of the subdivision, to widen a particular road within two lots of the subdivision to 20 feet, as recommended by county fire inspector Jimmy Teem, and to build an emergency turnaround to better accommodate emergency management vehicles within the subdivision. Roland stated that each requirement was met by the developer. Jones also paved a section of the road between two lots in the subdivision to meet the county’s road grade standards.
Subsequently, the planning board voted unanimously to approve the final plat for the Clubhouse/ Cabin Phase in Wildflower, on the condition that the developer pay a $120 fee to the county planning department.
The decision comes after Michelle Masta, co-developer of the Wildflower subdivision, commented before the Macon County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 8 alleging that two members of the planning board had caused one of their clients to opt out of their contract in Wildflower. Masta eventually singled out Al Slagle and Susan Ervin, claiming that the two members gave inaccurate information to the client.
Ervin later claimed that she never actually spoke to the client and denied attacking the subdivision’s developers, while noting that she did have some concerns with the history of the subdivision.The controversy also emerges right as Macon County Commissioners begin to debate term limits for county advisory boards, which includes the planning board.
“Our phone numbers are posted on the county website so people can contact us about their concerns, and that's what happened here,” said Ervin. “When Mr. Levine called my house I was not home and he only spoke with my husband, who gave him Al Slagle’s number. I have never maligned her or L.C. Jones as developers, but I am concerned about the history of that particular development and problems that could occur in the future. The discussions at the planning Board raised questions and considered policy, and were not personal. We do not oppose developers. We just want to make sure that appropriate regulation and effective enforcement are in place for safe and stable development,” replied Ervin when questioned about Masta’s allegations.
Ervin also referred to the North Carolina Geological Survey Maps which demonstrated that some portions of the Wildflower subdivision are susceptible to steep slope problems.
Slagle said he did have a conversation with the person, but never told the client not to purchase the lot, nor did he say anything to personally attack Masta or Jones.
“I am sure everyone is aware that we bought the development Wildflower, and we understood it had some issues,” commented Masta at the commissioners meeting. “That is why we not only hired a national geotechnical engineering firm but also a local engineer to help with this project. We also have been working closely with the county to eliminate any concerns and correct them,” she said.
L.C. Jones and Masta, along with Leed Enterprises, purchased the subdivision after BB&T foreclosed on Wildflower following the bursting of the housing bubble. More than half of all the property owners in Wildflower defaulted on their mortgage payments after the housing collapse.
Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, liaison to the planning board, commented on the situation during the planning board meeting last Thursday evening. “There was some fairly heavy allegations made about two members of the planning board. I’m not going to take sides,” stated Kuppers. “People have a right to come before the county commissioners and say what they want to say. But at the same time people who are asked a question, and just because they sit on a board, does not mean they can’t answer that question,” he said. “In looking at both parties and talking to as many people as I could, I don’t see any evidence that anybody on the planning board sought anybody out.”
Kuppers reiterated the point that there is only one position commissioners heed and that is the recommendations made by the planning board as an entity. “Anybody else that speaks is speaking for themselves, and it should be taken that way,” he said. “The only person that can speak for the planning board or a decision made by the planning board is the chairman of the planning board and the county planner. If you want to know where the county stands, it stands where our representative on the planning board says it stands,” said Kuppers. “Everything else is a conversation between two citizens as far as I’m concerned.”
Ervin and Slagle both submitted a written response to Masta’s allegations to the Macon County Board of Commissioners. “Remarks were attributed to me that I did not make,” said Ervin at last Thursday’s planning board meeting. “I do believe people have a right to express their opinion, but if someone expresses an opinion about me that is inaccurate, I as an individual have a right to respond to that,” stated Ervin.
Masta submitted a document to the planning department on Monday, Nov. 14, as directed by county commissioners after she asked for their help in resolving the issue. Masta believes the documentation proves that her former client was misled by Slagle and Ervin. The document contains an email from their former client, Mr. Fred Levine, and a letter submitted by Samuel Pinner of Southland Marketing and Development where he describes an event sale that occurred on October 1, 2011. Pinner claims that two individuals disrupted a tour of the Wildflower development that afternoon, claiming that Al Slagle had told them not to buy in Wildflower because of its history.
“I continued to tell them to no avail that they are partially correct but there is a new owner involved and all these issues have been addressed and repaired,” wrote Pinner. “They refused to let me show them the property personally and made a large enough scene that some of our clients did leave when they finally left.”
Ervin and Slagle’s written responses, like Masta’s documents, are considered public records.
In Ervin’s letter, she wrote that she actually has visited Wildflower on several occasions, including a couple of times on her own. Masta alleged that Ervin and Slagle were making inaccurate statements to the client without actually having visited the subdivision. “I have visited Wildflower on at least three planning board trips and a couple of times on my own,” wrote Ervin.
“Further on, she refers to comments Al Slagle allegedly made about not being able to get insurance at Wildflower. In discussions about slope development, we have often mentioned the fact that homeowners’ insurance does not cover any damage resulting from earth movement. This is an important fact, not an opinion, and is quite different from saying that insurance companies would not insure at Wildflower,” Ervin wrote.
Ervin went on to write that Levine, the client who opted out of his contract in Wildflower, referenced a blog he had read on the internet about FEMA designating all Western North Carolina counties landslide-hazardous in 1998. According to Ervin’s letter, the blog stated that “Robert Ullmann and Hardy Smith, Ultima Carolina copartners, should have known that the Macon County, N.C. Wildflower subdivision tract was not suitable or safe for residential development. This risk assessment was based primarily on soil survey data.”
The blog was authored by Lynne Vogel, not Susan Ervin, according to Ervin’s statement to the Board of Commissioners. “Vogel does quote a piece from a letter to the editor I wrote as a private citizen, with reference to me being a Cowee resident,” said Ervin. “That is, in fact, my opinion, one that many well-informed people share, one that many in Cowee share, one that is expressed reasonably,” Ervin wrote. “I am exercising my right as a citizen in expressing that opinion, and I did not claim to represent the position of the county,” wrote Ervin.
Slagle also wrote that he has visited Wildflower at least seven times that he could recall, and never told Levine “good luck getting insurance as companies won’t insure in Wildflower,” as Masta alleged. “I did not say this,” Slagle wrote. “Mr. Levine expressed concern that people who bought in The Ridges (Wildflower) would not be able to get Homeowners insurance. He asked if supplemental insurance could be purchased which would cover earth movements, and I told him I didn’t know,” continued Slagle.
Masta stated to commissioners that Slagle told Levine “no builders will build in Wildflower,” but Slagle denied making such an accusation. “To say I said something to that effect is ludicrous,” Slagle wrote.
Slagle added that he never stated or implied that he was representing the county during his conversation with Levine.
At the November 8 commissioners meeting, Masta stated “we stood in front of the planning board and gave full disclosure on our intentions for the property and asked if anyone had any concerns about our project to let us know and we would address them promptly.” Slagle said the particular meeting Masta is referring to “dealt strictly with preliminary plat approval under the Subdivision Ordinance for the Clubhouse Phase consisting of 12-13 lots in the immediate vicinity of the clubhouse. Both Susan Ervin and I asked numerous questions regarding the information on the plat, and I abstained from the vote because all of the information required by the ordinance was not on the plast.”
Slagle went on to write that Mr. Pinner’s letter was essentially bizarre and unbelievable. “I had no conversations with anyone — local or otherwise — who was considering purchasing a lot in The Ridges, or who was planning on attending the sales event.”