In its first meeting following the conclusion of the Ashe County Planning Board’s land use survey, a presentation on different county demographics and statistics was used to begin public conversation during the Board’s meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6.
“This first section is basically a run down of where Ashe County is,” said Adam Stumb, planning director for Ashe County. “We will run through it because it is part of the plan.”
The discussion started out with discussions of previous land use plans and surveys done within Ashe County, going as far back as 1974. In that survey, Stumb said responses included creating a subdivision ordinance, enforcing building and health codes and fighting the Blue Ridge Dam project.
“Some of the recommendations at the time were pretty progressive and ahead of the curve,” he said.
The most recent of the surveys discussed was from 2007, where the land use advisory committee gave recommendations to create a new land use plan for Ashe County, recommending creating a transparent process.
“We have received a lot of comments out of the surveys, so I don’t think people will hold back,” Stumb said. “I don’t expect them to.”
Next, the presentation focused on the population of the county, which increased 11.9 percent between 2000 and 2010. It was the second highest increase in the region, behind Watauga County. Also, Stumb’s statistics show less than 10 percent of the county’s population lives in towns, with the rest living in rural parts.
“I would call (Watauga) the outlier, just because they are in a different situation than Wilkes, Avery, Alleghany,” Stumb said. “The university (ASU) creates a lot of growth for Watauga County, so if you remove them from those statistics, Ashe County saw the most growth.”
Projections by the state show Ashe County will increase its population slightly, but Stumb said the numbers provided by the state are dated. The state figures show the county having a population of 27,707 in 2020, an increase of 426 people from 2010.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate,” he said. “I think Ashe County will top that number, plus some. They will start releasing new data and that will change.”
Planning Board member Arvil Scott asked what the population numbers were based on.
“Are these numbers based on full-time residents?” he asked.
Stumb said yes, because the numbers were based on numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census.
“Do we have any statistics on part-time residents in the area,” Board member Darrell Hamilton asked. “Is there any way we can get that data?”
Stumb said he would like for the county to start collecting that data. Right now, the county only has a number of seasonal dwellings within Ashe, which are 24.6 percent of all housing units.
“I think one thing I want to put in the land use plan for a recommendation, is to start collecting data on who is coming here seasonally,” Stumb said.
Another topic brought up from survey results was a concern over affordable housing within Ashe County.
“There’s certainly concern over affordable housing and whether Ashe County is affordable,” Stumb said. “Most people think that it’s not, or that it is but there is still a problem.”
Stumb provided median home values within the neighboring counties and for the High Country region. Ashe’s median home value is $152,900, while the average in N.C. is $153,600.
Watauga County showed the highest home values with a median of $233,500 while Wilkes County was the most affordable with a median house value of $111,200.
“The definition of affordable depends on who you are talking to,” Stumb said. “(Ashe) compared to the state is pretty close to middle ground.”
Stumb said he believed the difference in home values between Watauga, Ashe and Wilkes had to do with the reliance on second homes in Watauga and Ashe.
Hamilton said 48.6 percent of housing in Ashe County was $149,000 or less.
“That blows my mind, because I would not have ever dreamed that was the case,” he said.
Hamilton also wanted to see numbers for the median wage beside the median home value as it would better show what is affordable. Also, he wanted to see those numbers against the state average and larger metropolitan areas.
“It would be nice to see where we stack up against a Winston-Salem or a Greensboro, where we stand,” Hamilton said. “That gives you some perspective.”
In other action taken by the Board:
• The board approved minutes from the previous meeting on Thursday, Jan. 16.
• All members of the Planning Board were in attendance. The next meeting of the Planning Board will take place Thursday, Feb. 20 and will focus on land use survey results.
Wil Petty can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.