Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Homebuilder corrects county’s floodplain permitting oversight

The newly-built residence at 1360 Geneva Albright Road is more than just another real estate listing to Mark Dyer of DCI Homes.

Rising out of the picturesque woodlands near the western bank of the Haw River, this 3,000 square-foot dwelling is also a point of professional pride for the Graham-based homebuilder, who has left his figurative thumbprint on everything from the home’s architectural designs to the custom cabinetry and huge cedar beams that grace the interior.

But for all his attention to details, Dyer was left scratching his head when he received an unexpected communiqué from Alamance County’s planning department earlier this month.

“I got notification from the county on October 9 that I needed a floodplain development permit,” he recalled in an interview last week. “This is the first time that I’ve dealt with something like this, and I’ve been building for 30 years.”

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Dyer said that the need for a floodplain permit had never even occurred to him since the home he constructed is perched on the high ground well out of reach of the 100-year flood. But as he would later discover, a small portion of the home’s driveway lies in the latest floodplain that FEMA mapped out in 2020. This small intrusion wasn’t recorded in the surveys that Dyer had at his disposal, but it was apparently enough to necessitate a county-issued permit to “disturb” this ostensibly flood-prone sliver of property.

Dyer, for his part, wasn’t the only one who had no inkling that his plans for this home would demand an extra layer of red tape. This same administrative minutia also seems to have escaped the county’s building inspectors, who issued a construction permit to Dyer on October 5, 2022. Nor did it figure into the assessments of the county’s health department, which had previously signed off on the well and septic system that Dyer put in to serve the new home which lies south of Graham’s service area.

Although Dyer has since submitted the required permit, its initial omission drew an anonymous complaint to the county – which briefly had the case bumped up to the county’s legal department before it was referred back to planning. This snafu also came to the attention of The Alamance News, which published a Public Asks article two weeks ago exploring the ins and outs of the issue. The newspaper tried to get up Dyer before the article went to press, but was unable to make contact because, as it later found out, he was out of the country.

Builder Mark Dyer (right) and his son Dawson

All this attention has come as a bit of a shock to Dyer, who conceded that he has generally been able to count on these county-level agencies to inform him about the obscure regulatory provisions that he needs to address.

“A builder isn’t an expert on all things,” he acknowledged. “I am part of a team. The Alamance County planning department, the inspections department, and the health department are very helpful to me.  If there’s a gray area in the building code, and I have a question, they tell me what I should be doing.”

Just how this matter slipped through the cracks is also a puzzle to Brian Baker, an assistant county manager whose area of oversight includes the planning department. Baker speculated that the matter might’ve initially eluded county staff members due to the small size of the affected area at 1360 Geneva Albright Road.

“If they we’re building a new road in the flood plain,” he added, “there would not have been any question about that. But this is an existing road, they’re just pulling a driveway off of it, and it only affects a small part of the property.”

Aside from its impact on Dyer’s latest construction, the 100-year floodplain also impinges on a neighboring parcel at 1370 Geneva Albright Road, where DCI Homes had previously built another high-dollar dwelling on behalf of Randy and Veronica Teer. As in the case of the home at 1360 Geneva Albright, this residence is situated on high ground that’s entirely clear of the floodplain. Yet, its driveway is also partially located within the area judged susceptible to floods.

Dyer said it had dawned on him that this home would also need a floodplain development when he received the planning department’s letter on October 9.

“I got a certificate of occupancy for that home in January, and it was no longer my problem,” he added. “But I have integrity, so I personally texted the Teers and I told them that if they haven’t received a certified letter, they would…and I said that I’d pay for [a survey to address the oversight] because I had developed that property.”

In the end, Dyer took the steps that he felt were necessary to bring both of these parcels into regulatory compliance. In doing so, the homebuilder insists that he has also provided a small public service by filling in some of the gaps which previously existed in the county’s mapping system.

“It’s important for the county’s GIS system to depict where the floodplain crosses,” he said. “When we buy a lot, part of our development cost is updating the GIS system to be more accurate.”

Dyer’s efforts to rectify this mishap also seem to have satisfied the county-level officials who are responsible for enforcing the county’s development rules.

“I followed up last week with the planning department,” Baker told The Alamance News on Monday, “and they definitely filed their permit applications within the time we have them…So, the system is working the way that it should be.”

See background from earlier stories:

Has homebuilder constructed homes in a floodplain without a permit? (Oct. 12)

Environmental group raises concerns about septic leak into Haw River; state, county officials don’t see a problem:

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