Friday, January 09, 2009

"Fried Fridays: Sliding Scale Fees"

Yes, for my end-of-the-week-tongue-in-cheek blog I usually scrape the news barrel for the weekly scum highlights. I usually trend for the absurd and isolated "who'uld a thunk it?" headldines, but this week I'll digress a little (imagine that...!).

No, I didn't go with the WCNC-6 (Charlotte) story on why Larry Flint's porn industry wants a government bailout for his ailing film works...

No, I didn't go with the PA man who decided to run his chain saw all over his neighbor's front door because of a parking dispute...

No, I didn't go with the Medford, OR idiot who, incensed that the nightclub had posted a 'No Smoking' sign, decided to focus his rage into lighting the sign on fire...

Rather, I chose a topic that is near and dear to my heart and really burns my butt...


Bruce and Lorraine Donin had a real estate business in FL that went belly-up after 25 years, thanks to our current economy. Bruce is in the real estate business, and like many Floridians (and others, I know) find the mountains of western North Carolina an idyllic place to develop.

I used to be a regular reader of "Outside" magazine...and it was always the kiss of death when an area got on their "Top 1o List of Incredible Hiking Trails That No One Knows About". Once the proverbial cat is out of the bag, it's Katy-bar-the-door for the influx of gawkers and wanna-be's that think they're onto something special to just them.

News flash: it doesn't work that way.

My family moved to western NC when I entered 7th grade. By virtue of having spent myriad years around the mountains, I consider myself an adopted resident. The beauty and natural energy feels 'good' and 'right'. The artistic environment and culture feels 'good' and 'right'. Too, I've always been of the belief that when you come into an area, that you honor the people and culture that was there to begin with, and try to blend in and be an integral part of the community.

Alas, far too many mountain houses and developments do little more than stick out like a sore thumb, and the Maggie area has it's share of holiday homes crammed all over mountainsides. can be anything but aesthetic, and has serious safety ramifications.

News flash: you can't buy wisdom.

I'm not one for across-the-board splashes of statements that say "always" or "never", but through personal experience have seen patterns that cannot be denied. Per the NC mountains in particular, I've seen an excessive influx of 'outsiders' that buy up huge tracts of land, and slap up big cabins after they cut down all the trees around them. Worse yet, they create ultra high-end gated communities, of which I am no fan, on many levels. While there ARE some good and socially-conscious developers out there, there are just as many greedy ones that simply want to turn a buck. To do so on steep mountain slopes is asking for disasters, and there will be more, sadly.

Drive through Maggie Valley and you'll see some really unsightly housing/cabin development.
The Donin's home was not on the 40-degree slope; rather, they were toward the base of it. Their short-sighted mistake was willingly building slap up against a creek that normally has a very limited flow. But above them....aha....

On the steep slope above them were terraces and dirt paths with little vegetation on them...speculating developers of the worst kind. 5 inches of rain combined with the irresponsible clearing and created a massive debris flow that went right down the creek bed. With the Donin house mated to the creek, it was Bowling-For-Buildings time.

The Donin's new home was built in 2007 as a spec house. After initially being told to halt development because of their location right beside a cascading creek, construction resumed several months later after some government authority in Raleigh gave them a variance to proceed (the specifics of how that came about are still murky). They had been in their 3-story home for only a couple of months before the heavy mountain rains loosed the hillside above their home and sent it 300 feet downhill.

“I always thought it (the creek) was just pretty. Last night after all the rain it was (flowing) pretty good, though,” Donnin said. “Sometimes it's dry. It's not a big creek, but it can carry a lot of volume of water I guess.”


Let me first say I'm glad they survived. Let me secondly say I'm gritting my teeth over their willful ignorance to build where they shouldn't have and how they got it okayed, with no apparent thought beyond 'we think it's pretty'. Even several of the neighbors had an informal 'pool' going on when the house would slide down the mountain...per a WLOS news report, one corner of the house was just 6 FEET from the waterfall and creek bed. Common sense would tell you in a heartbeat that's a lousy and unsafe place to build a house.

"Donnin said he was never concerned about the location of the house next to the creek."
( quotes from Asheville Citizen-Times article)

Are ya kiddin' me????

"Legal" or not, they built a time-bomb, and it loosed the other night. And bigger questions remain on who was developing the steep slope area above the house and whether they violated building ordinances. The wranglings will go on for quite some time, and the insurance companies have not yet decided whether this is one disaster to pay out on or not. However, as I watched the interviews with and read the accounts by the couple, the compassion truck didn't make a delivery stop for me.

Western North Carolina is being killed not by its beauty but by the short-sighted people that want a piece of it and disregard trying to develop and build responsibly. More legislation is needed, and more will follow. We can only hope that such incidences will spur us into thinking and acting in a more heightened consciousness for the 'higher good' of our communities...not just our own selfish desires.

Undoubtedly it is a slippery slope to tread, in itself.

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