Study: Development far outpaces population growth in WNC

Published 12:49 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

The number of developed acres grew at a much faster rate than population in Western North Carolina between 1976 and 2006, according to a newly released study by the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) of UNC Charlotte.

The 19-county study region extends from Polk County in the south and Wilkes County on the Virginia border in the north to the westernmost point in North Carolina.

The study found land development increased by 568 percent in the region, while population grew by only 42 percent, resulting in a much larger development footprint per person by the end of the 30-year period.

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RENCI reports that developed acreage increased in the region from 34,348 to 229,422 and population rose from 545,100 to 774,281. The development footprint rose from 0.06 acres per person in 1976 to 0.30 acres per person in 2006. &bsp;

In 1976, less than one percent of the region was developed and about 25 percent was protected open space, consisting primarily of federal and state lands. By 2006, developed land made up 5 percent of the region and protected open space was up to 31 percent. Most of the urbanization occurred around highway interchanges, in valleys and along adjacent major corridors, according to the study.

The report projects the development footprint will continue to grow over the next 20 years, although at a much slower pace as development falls back in line more with population growth. The study projects a 63-percent increase in developed acreage and a 25-percent increase in population by 2030. Population in the region is expected to rise to nearly one million by 2030, while about 145,374 more acres will be developed. Alleghany, Ashe and Madison counties are expected to see the greatest increases in development, while population growth will come largely from Buncombe and Henderson counties, according to the study.


The I-26 Connector Project in Asheville, previously expected to begin in 2014, may not get started until 2020 or later, according to the states latest Transportation Improvement Plan. DOT has listed the project, designed to reduce congestion in West Asheville, as the lowest priority among 21 loop freeway projects in the state. The I-26 Connector Project involves reconfiguring the I-26/I-40/I-240 interchange west of Asheville. I-240 would be widened to eight lanes and a new section of freeway would be built across the French Broad River.

The planned loop freeway projects in the state are expected to cost about $8 billion, but the state only has $150 million a year allocated for them. The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, which has supported the connector project, says the delay will mean more congestion and safety hazards as traffic continues to increase at the interchange.


South Carolina and North Carolina are ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, among the most business-friendly states in the country, according to Pollina Corporate Real Estate, Inc. of Chicago.

Pollina represents corporations in real estate matters on a national and international basis and ranks states based on 31 factors, including taxes, human resources, right-to-work legislation, energy costs, infrastructure spending, economic incentive programs and state economic development efforts. Virginia topped the ranking followed by Utah and Wyoming.

Both North Carolina and South Carolina also ranked high in a new ranking by “Business Facilities Magazine.” The publication ranked South Carolina first nationally for Economic Growth Potential and fourth for Best Business Climate. North Carolina was ranked fourth for economic growth potential and sixth for business climate.

S.C. Governor Mark Sanford noted that his state ranked first in the Southeast for job recruitment in 2009, and has had six 1,000-plus job announcements in the past several months, including Boeing in the Lowcountry and Samsung in the Upstate.


Caterpillar is planning to bring 392 jobs to the Winston-Salem at a new $426 million manufacturing plant. Currently, Caterpillar employs 1,026 people in North Carolina, at operations in Clayton, Cary and Sanford. The Winston-Salem site was chosen over Montgomery, Ala., and Spartanburg, S.C. Caterpillar says its also considering an expansion at its Cary plant.


Plans for a large cargo terminal in Wilmington, N.C., expected to cost $2 to $3 billion, have been shelved after facing stiff opposition from communities in the area.

The terminal, expected to accommodate a new generation of super-sized ocean vessels, was proposed for a 600-acre tract along the Cape Fear River north of Southport. The larger container ships are expected to begin visiting East Coast ports regularly after the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014.

Advocates of the new terminal said it would be a state-of-the-market gateway to the worlds economy, which would complete with the top ports on the East Coast. However, opponents described projections as overly optimistic and filed a complaint last year challenging the conclusions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


North Carolina is ranked 37th in the country in an annual child well-being study. The Annie E. Casey Foundations 2010 Kids Count Data Book shows North Carolinas ranking is unchanged from last year, but still well above the 45th place ranking in 2003.

According to the study, 20 percent of children in North Carolina were living in poverty in 2008. While that percentage has been nearly unchanged since 2000, the percent of 16 to- 19-year-olds has doubled since 2000, hitting eight percent in 2008.


Bi-Lo Inc. is again for sale and drawing interest from Publix Super Markets and Kroger Co., according to a report from Reuters. Bi-Lo emerged from bankruptcy in May. The Mauldin-based grocery chain received a $150 million equity investment from its owner, Lone Star Funds, along with $200 million in term loan financing and $150 million in revolving credit as part of its reorganization plan. During bankruptcy, Bi-Lo had considered selling to the parent company of Food Lion. Bi-Lo has 207 stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.


Greer City Council has passed the first reading of an ordinance to hold a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales in the city. The ordinance, passed by a 5-2 vote, will let voters decide on November 2 whether alcohol should be served in restaurants and taverns on Sunday.&bsp; Hoping to boost business, restaurant owners in downtown Greer asked council to consider the referendum. Most speakers at the city council meeting said citizens should have a chance to vote on the issue, although Rev. Johnson Paul of Peoples Baptist Church urged council members to reject the ordinance. He said restaurants already are selling it six days a week, and hes opposed to that.


The town council in Summerville, S.C. approved this week an ordinance to prohibit illegal immigrants from living in the city. The ordinance, passed by a 4-2 vote Wednesday, drew mixed comments from speakers at a 90-minute public debate prior to the vote. Opponents, including a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ordinance violates federal housing laws. Supporters said the town should approve the ordinance to send a message to Washington about the need for immigration reform.


The Greensboro/High Point/Winston-Salem metropolitan area ranks as the top place in the country for fast food restaurant breakfast diners in a survey completed by Scarborough Research. The survey firm found that 56 percent of adults in the area ate breakfast at a quick service restaurant in the past month. Other top cities in the ranking included Boston (55 percent), Raleigh (51 percent), Charlotte (49 percent), Greenville, S.C. (49 percent) and Providence, R.I. (49 percent). The most popular place was McDonalds, where 46 percent of adults had breakfast in the past month, followed by Dunkin Donuts (19 percent), Starbucks (19 percent) and Burger King (12 percent).


Rural Madison County residents will benefit from a $1.8 million federal grant to extend high-speed Internet service to areas unserved by existing Internet providers.

The service will use the existing French Broad Electric Membership Corp. grid to send two levels of Internet access to residents in Spring Creek, Laurel, and Beech Glenn, as well as areas of Marshall and Mars Hill.

Donald Webb, an electrical engineer with FBEMC, said the company has been running a test of the system in the Windswept Ridge-Long Branch area. With the federal grant, he said the company will begin hanging fiber lines on existing power poles to get the Internet close to rural homes and businesses. He said residents will be able to choose from a 256Kbps system or a 1MB connection.


Asheville City Council is proposing a zoning change to encourage the development of more affordable housing. The change would allow developers to construct multifamily housing projects, such as condominiums and apartments, on land zoned for single family homes and is within a quarter-mile of a city bus line. Buildings would have to be designed to blend in with the surrounding residential area. Developers would be allowed to build more units if they meet certain affordability and environmental standards.

Supporters of affordable housing are encouraging the city to move forward with the plan, which they say is long overdue to provide an alternative to the citys expensive housing. Asheville was ranked 207th out of 225 metro areas in the first quarter on housing affordability, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. Opponents say the change would weaken the single family zoning district and allow multifamily housing projects to encroach on established single family neighborhoods.