County considers state requirement for tough rules for building safety on steep slopes
Owners of 20,000 properties in landslide-prone areas received an ominous warning this week from Jackson County that land values could be reduced under a proposed ordinance.
We've had quite a few calls about this, said county Planning Manager Ali Turiel.
The letter referred to House Bill 3375, passed on May 28, that requires greater oversight by counties in areas that have substantial risk of landslides.
Despite the tone of the letter, Turiel said that the new county regulation required by the state should apply only to property owners who want to build on a site that has a combination of a 20 percent slope and unstable soil. It will not apply to existing structures.
While up to a third of the county falls into this category, according to geologic survey maps, most of the properties are on public land, said Turiel.
— Turiel expects the new regulation could affect construction of homes in the western hills of Jackson County, particularly around Jacksonville, Talent and Central Point, as well as in some outlying communities such as Gold Hill and Rogue River.
The goal of the new rule is to protect homes from sliding down a hill, an event that plagued 1970s-era homes in the foothills of Roxy Ann before Medford created stringent building requirements.
This really is a public safety issue, said Turiel.
Some of the most prestigious home sites with sweeping views of the valley could fall under the new regulation, which will be the subject of a public hearing before the county Board of Commissioners at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 7.
The occasional trophy home is going to have to pay a little bit more, she said.
Cities like Ashland and Medford already have regulations pertaining to steep hillside construction that require more engineering and better foundations.
In the Hillcrest Road area, the extra cost to build on the clay slopes can be expensive.
Local contractor Art Osbourn says he paid &
36;100,000 to excavate, build retaining walls and beef up the foundation of a new home on Hidden Valley Court.
We have to take out all the black sticky clay, he said.
Gavino Ordonez, one of Osbourn's concrete subcontractors, said the foundation might look like overkill, but it guarantees it will stay put.
The county presently has some guidelines about the kind of foundations that should be built, but contractors don't always follow them.
Rick Swanson, geotechnical engineer with Marquess and Associates in Medford, said some contractors come to him because they are advised to by the county, but others do it on their own accord.
The saddest thing for me is when contractors find out too late, and this should help stop that, he said.
Jackson County building official Bob Gilmore said the new regulation will help alert county planners in advance before something is built on a steep slope. The county has maps that show the locations of areas with unstable soils or steep slopes.
Gilmore said he personally would have preferred the code apply to slopes of 15 or 16 percent as a precautionary measure.
One hundred houses in Portland slid down the hill without any fault on the part of the city, he said, noting this occurred despite its tough hillside restrictions.
John Lenz, a Realtor at
RE/MAX Ideal Properties Real Estate, said the foundation work does push up the cost of housing in some areas of the valley.
An ordinary foundation could cost anywhere from &
36;10,000 to &
36;15,000, he said, but one that is engineered could easily double that amount.
This kind of foundation work is not new, he said. This is all standard operating procedure today in Medford.
Lenz, who represents about four builders in the area, said contractors use different techniques to stabilize foundations, from excavating to sinking concrete piers.
With the potential for legal problems and home warranties, Lenz said most contractors try to build the best foundation they can, even in county areas.
They've got to pin these things down or they're dead, he said.