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Council Sends Steep Slope Issue To Board


Last updated 6/9/2021 at 3:26pm

Brevard City Council’s discussion on making changes to building restrictions on steep slopes continued Monday, with a vote to table the issue and send it back to the Planning Board.

In May’s meeting, Council revisited the ordinance that currently restricts construction on steep slopes to a maximum grade of 25%.

The current Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) defines steep slopes as areas with a slope of 15% or greater, with development restrictions on slopes of 25% or greater.

During Monday’s budget workshop meeting, Council heard a presentation from Aaron Bland, the city’s assistant planning director, on updated recommendations that included several adjustments.

One is the possibility that a slope may be determined by another method as performed by either a licensed engineer or land surveyor, with another allowance changing the Planning Board’s initial recommendation of exemption in steep slope regulation triggered from 2,250 feet up to 2,300 feet above sea level.

Staff also included a provision that properties with an average slope over 50% can then run the calculation just on the area to be disturbed to show the proposed development will be done on a more level section of the property.

“I realize that starting the protections at 25% and 75% disturbance seems radical, but when you start really looking into this and areas around town, and seeing how steep they actually are, 25% slope really isn’t all that steep,” Bland said. “It’s only 14 degrees if you think about it as an angle of degrees, and 50% slope is 26.6 degrees, so that changed our thinking a bit making that realization.”

In February 2019, council had voted against a proposal that would have allowed for construction on steep slopes from a maximum of roughly 20% to a roughly 50% grade.

This past February, Councilman Maurice Jones asked the issue be revisited, which prompted city staff to return to the ordinance.

During the May meeting, Bland presented proposed changes to the ordinance.

The proposal was to provide a more specific formula for calculating the slopes on property that is more nuanced than the protection kicking in at 25%.

The current ordinance doesn’t specify whether it’s referring to the average of the whole parcel or just an area to be built upon.

Calculating the average slope of a parcel that may have both flat and sloped land may prohibit construction on the flat ground due to steep slope protections, despite no construction proposed on the steep slope, according to a staff report.

Properties located below a certain level can be exempt from steep slope regulations, while those above may be subject to them.

Staff had recommended increasing the “trigger” elevation from 2,250 to 2,300 feet, in addition to the new formula that takes the whole parcel into account.

Councilwoman Maur-een Copelof had said she liked the idea of having a consistent formula, but she wasn’t sure about the significant change, moving from a 25% restriction to a 50% one.

In Monday’s meeting, Copelof said she’s still concerned about the changes.

“Two years ago I was concerned about it, and I’m still concerned about it because we are radically changing steep slopes that we are allowed to build on,” Copelof said.

She said the idea of just using the formula made sense instead of changing the whole approach toward building on steep slopes.

“It was my impression that we were doing this to get a method of consistency for measure-ment and that would help developers and staff, so this would help alleviate the problem that would change our approach to the development of steep slopes,” Copelof said.

Councilman Gary Daniel said he’s satisfied with the changes, adding the number 25% as a restricted limit to building on steep slopes has always felt arbitrary.

“It’s a big change to go away from that, but how we ever got there in the first place I think is the question that I would raise in response to that because 25% is just not that steep, “ Daniel said.

Councilwoman Geral-dine Dinkins said she’s not happy with any of it.

“That’s probably not a surprise,” she said, adding she thought the amendment was supposed to go back before the Planning Board.

“I still don’t understand why it’s back and back with such a hurry,” Dinkins said.

Since the Planning Board hasn’t looked at the amendment since 2018, Dinkins said it should be sent back to its members.

Councilman Maurice Jones asked Dinkins, “After two years, you think it’s back in a hurry?”

“It is,” she replied. “It’s back in a hurry, and a lot has changed around here. I don’t want to touch hillsides. I don’t understand what we are doing here. I’ve done some research. I’ve talked to some people outside of town. I’m not happy with this formula. It’s the closest formula I could find that mirrors this formula for a very dry place, with very little slope.”

Bland said several municipalities in Western North Carolina used the formula, including Ashe-ville, Black Mountain, Waynesville and Weaver-ville.

Being a wet place, with hills that provide scenery, Dinkins said she’s not ready to approve the current recommendations without it going before the Planning Board.

“Let’s table it and send it back to Planning Board,” Dinkins said. “It’s two years old. Let planning look at it again. You make your case before planning and explain to me at least what developers we are accommodating here, because nobody is speaking for the environment.”

Copelof said since she voted against it two years ago, she’s been speaking for the environment.

City Attorney Mack McKeller said that Dinkins’ last previous statement was a motion to table, which was later seconded my Copelof.

“I’ve never understood this, and two years ago I didn’t like it,” Copelof said. “I didn’t vote for it then. I agree we need some type of consistency, but I don’t see any reason we have to move on with this.”

Jones said he wanted to clarify that he was not trying to push anything through “or pull a fast one over anyone’s eyes” by bringing the issue back to council.

“I’m just looking for the impetus,” Dinkins said.

Jones said, “That’s why I’m making this comment, since I brought it up.”

Dinkins asked, “Then it’s just house holding, a tying up of a loose end?”

“Exactly,” Jones replied.


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