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  • Building in WNC series: Topography and the Steep Slope Ordinance

    Wednesday, March 1, 2023   /   by Amy Brown

    Building in WNC series: Topography and the Steep Slope Ordinance

    Today is the first day of the Spring buying season and with the continued escalating prices of resale homes many clients have expressed an interest in building. This is Part 1 of a 5 part series of what is entailed in building in WNC, ordinances that affect your project, and how those costs will determine what and where you will build.


    What you think we have…

    The reality…

    The Appalachian mountains are the oldest mountain chain in the world. Formed 480 million years ago, the Appalachians were born of one of the first geologic plate collisions that created the supercontinent Pangaea. Elevations at that time rivaled those of the Alps. Upon the breakup of Pangaea, a series of continental margin collisions during the Paleozoic era crushed two formidable oceanic plates together creating the Appallachians that we look upon today. Around 300 million years ago, our mountains were higher than the Himalayas. 

    The cold mountain streams, snow runoff, and large amounts of rainfall have eroded our mountain chain considerably. Today, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge is Mt. Mitchell at 6,684 ft. of elevation. As you travel up the mountain either from Old Fort on I-40 or through the Green River pass in Saluda on I-26 you arrive at the top of the French Broad Plateau and the city of Asheville which sits at only 2,134 ft. of elevation. Most homes in our area are located between 2,000-2,500 ft. high at best but what makes building so difficult is the steepness of the mountainsides and the lack of space between mountain ridges.

    Homebuyers in our area are searching for the ever elusive “mountain view”. A common misconception is that you can move to the mountains and that every home has a view. Let me say, first of all, that the panoramic view that you are looking for is rare and comes at a high price tag. In order to obtain this type of view, you are looking at a home that is going to be located higher up on the mountainside than the traditional home available in our area. Grades at this height will be 35% or more thus requiring special building accommodations and are governed by city and county restrictions to protect our ridgelines. 

    Ordinances that Affect Your Land Purchase

    Steep Slope Overlay

    Steep slope overlay is intended to limit the intensity of development in steep areas, preserve viewsheds, and protect natural resources on land higher than 2,500 feet above sea level with a natural slope of 35% or more. There are three restrictions encountered when building on a steep slope; site area disturbance, screening, and you must use a geotechnical engineer. 

    Site area disturbance is going to dictate the design, footprint, and ultimately, the size of land parcel that you will purchase as you can only disturb a certain percentage of the land in order to preserve natural runoff routes and for erosion control. These limitations also include certain “impervious improvements” which are driveways, patios, and garage foundations.