By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
According to a report in the Observer-Reporter, two developers of planned housing developments in Washington County, Pa., have filed appeals to North Strabane Township’s “Amended Grading and Ordinance of 2018.”
Last year, the Township updated its ordinance after a slope failure in the Majestic Hills development led to a catastrophic landslide and demolition of three relatively new homes.
The incident led several homeowners to file a lawsuit against the community’s developer, Joe DeNardo, and North Strabane Township. And, because the landslide blocked a public road outside of the HOA’s boundaries, the Township spent millions to clean up the mess and repair the damages.
That got Supervisors thinking about how to prevent a similar disaster in the future, leading to amendments to the Township grading ordinance.
The purpose of the 2018 ordinance reads as follows:
The Board of Supervisors has decided it to be in the best interest for the Township to require a geotechnical engineering report and certification for all grading, and excavating that meets certain criteria set forth herein. Furthermore, the Board believes it to be in the best interest for the Township to require the removal of all utilities from the slope; and connection of all roof drains/down spouts to the storm sewer system.
One new condition of the 2018 Ordinance is that no grading and excavation for land development may include a slope steeper than a one-foot drop in elevation over three feet horizontally. (Commonly known as a 3:1 slope)
Developers appeal ordinance
Unfortunately, prior to enacting the 2018 Grading Ordinance, the Township approved site plans for two developments. Both developers have appealed in Washington County court to waive compliance with new grading and slope standards.
Laurel Communities LLC of 2548 Washington Road, Upper St. Clair, plans 88 apartments and 41 rental townhouses and Bove Development Corp. of Venetia, plans 47 single family homes in a new subdivision to be called Forest View Conservation.
A homeowners association is planned for Forest View. Therefore, future homeowners will be responsible for maintaining common areas, to include graded slopes and buffer zones.
If the court rules in favor of Bove Development Corp., Forest View Conservation HOA will be stuck with liability for potential safety hazards related to steep slopes that won’t comply with the 2018 grading ordinance.
“No good deed goes unpunished”
In this case, North Strabane Township Supervisors have tried to do the right thing. Hats off to them.
Unfortunately, some developers appear willing to spend a great deal of money, as they try to get out of spending a single extra dime to make sure that future homes in their new communities won’t slide downhill.
And, of course, this explains why so many local government officials may be willing to defer to the will of real estate developers: to avoid expensive and stressful litigation.
Developers resist grading requirement enacted after they submitted plans
Barbara Miller, Observer-Reporter
Feb. 13, 2019
Two developers who hope to build housing in North Strabane Township won conditional approval, but, in separate cases, they appealed to Washington County Court on Monday a provision that they must comply with a grading and excavating ordinance the supervisors amended after they submitted their plans.
The Majestic Hills development in North Strabane was beset by landslides last year during record rainfall that resulted in four homes being vacated, three of which have been demolished.
Also last year, the supervisors amended the ordinance to require a slope stability analysis and geo-technical engineering report for significant slopes.
The ordinance does not allow grading in buffer areas.