In its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, March 20, the Ashe County Planning Board discussed potential for development along the U.S. 221 corridor, following the completion of schedule lane expansion from the U.S. 421 interchange in Watauga County to Jefferson city limits.
“We will talk about development, and about where we can envision things,” said Adam Stumb, Ashe County planning director. “We won’t see a strip of development from point A to point B, there is just limitations which won’t allow that. We can, at least, envision where things may start popping up.”
As part of the meeting, the Board and all in attendance gathered around a table in the courtroom to get a firsthand look at the maps of U.S. 221 and the proposed routes for the expansion. The maps, aside from showing the route, also showed intersections, turnarounds and other detailed aspects of the project.
Board member Darrell Hamilton asked how the road was going to be completed, if the plan included using all of the current route of U.S. 221. Stumb said yes that the plan would use the exisiting roadway and then focused on how he believed construction on the road would be completed.
“When they are working, they will work on one side, I’m sure they will be shifting traffic back and forth as (the DOT) is working,” he said. “That’s sort of the idea, is to build it using the existing road.”
Following a review of the project’s sections, and their proposed completion dates, the board then turned to focus on where development could thrive.
Most of the intersections within the route will require turnarounds, according to Stumb. There are currently no areas planned to allow traffic to turn left, with exception to the intersection of N.C. 163 in West Jefferson.
Hamilton asked if there were any crossroads within the route, and Stumb said he believed there wasn’t.
“Well, that does not bode well for development,” Hamilton said.
On the left side of U.S. 221 lies Gap Creek, which because of its proximity, will require businesses to build on the other side of the creek if that area is developed.
For development, Stumb said while it’s not impossible to develop along the southern stretch of U.S. 221, development is “not ideal.”
Board member Arvil Scott, pointed out that most of the area which can be developed on the southern portion of U.S. 221 was all within Watauga County.
“Our topography is not ideal, but you sort of already have a little bit of commercial activity there (in Watauga),” Stumb said.
Board Chair Gene Hafer asked if Watauga was considering moving water and sewer lines within the area. Stumb said Watauga was looking in the Deep Gap area for a place to put a potential industrial park. In addition, a new Dollar General is being placed there.
“(Watauga) is still in the planning phases, but for a project like that, they would need sewer and water,” he said.
Hafer said if Watauga decided to place an industrial park in the Deep Gap area, Ashe County should look into residential developments in the southern parts of U.S. 221.
“The nature of the beast, it makes better sense with that traffic flow to locate (an industrial park) near that intersection,” Scott said, referring to the intersection with U.S. 421.
Hamilton said if Ashe County is going to promote industrial development, then they need to look closer to the West Jefferson area, proposing the N.C. 194 intersection near Baldwin. With that part of the county, there could be potential for joint development between the town of West Jefferson and the county, with it being close to West Jefferson’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).
“I think the N.C. 194 area is probably where we need to be paying our attention to,” Hamilton said. “I think that would be the place, if we’re going to expand development outside of the ETJ, that would be where it would be most feasible to get water and sewer to.”
Right now, the N.C. DOT’s plan for the expansion would prevent cars from turning left on U.S. 221 from N.C. 194, requiring Baldwin and Todd residents to use Baldwin and Beaver Creek School roads to enter West Jefferson.
Vice Chairman Rick Surber, said with his meetings with attorneys about the construction, if there were concerns, now would be the time to address them to the N.C. DOT.
“The recommendation has been if anyone wants to change (intersections) on this road, now is the time,” he said. “Once the bidding is done, it ain’t going to happen.”
Surber said that meant the board had until April of 2017 to reach a consensious about changing that intersection.
“If we are looking at a plan to do this, then we need to talk with the (project’s) engineers and see what their input is and what we think is a good place (for development),” he said. “It is a lot easier and cheaper on paper then it is without their input.”
No official decisions were made at the March 20 meeting. The Planning Board will next meet on Thursday, April 3 to continue discussion.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.