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Balancing growth, quality of life

ASHEBORO — When Toyota Battery and Wolfspeed Semiconductors, within a few months, announced plans to invest billions to create thousands of jobs in Randolph County or at its border, it became apparent that the Randolph County Growth Management Plan must be updated to account for the rapid growth that would follow.


In a memo to the Board of County Commissioners dated Jan. 3, 2023, County Manager Hal Johnson said that developing the Greensboro Randolph Megasite by Toyota and the Chatham County Advanced Manufacturing site near the Randolph County line “will have growth impacts on Randolph County never before envisioned. … As a result, a comprehensive update of the existing Randolph County Growth Management Plan should be implemented. The initial scope of the update should focus on the northeast portion …”


Johnson requested, and the commissioners approved, a services contract with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council to oversee a months-long study culminating in an updated Growth Management Plan. The study would look at economic factors, growth patterns/trends, jurisdictional plans, growth areas and impacts, mapping, policy and goals.


The process would involve public meetings to gauge the thoughts of residents and gain consensus. There would also be meetings of a steering committee with a variety of stakeholders as well as meeting with municipalities.


Inherent in the process was a statement Johnson highlighted in boldface: “The foundation of Randolph County’s Growth Management Plan is to recognize that sustainable economic growth, environmental protection, and rural quality of life can be pursued together as mutually supporting growth management and public policy goals. One does not necessarily exclude the other.


As a result, the commissioners passed a resolution on Oct. 26, 2023, that echoed the goals that Johnson had laid out. In fact, the first point of the eight-point resolution said, “Recognize that sustainable economic growth, environmental protection, and the rural quality of life can be pursued together as mutually supporting public policy goals.”


It was further resolved that the policies established by the Northeast Growth Management Plan should be used “as guidelines in evaluating rezoning and growth-related issues. The evaluation criteria should also be used to assist citizens in making decisions that are consistent with Randolph County growth management policies.”


What is a Growth Management Plan?

As defined by the document, “A Growth Management Plan is a comprehensive roadmap implemented by a local government to promote balanced and orderly development within a specific region. Topics such as land use, public infrastructure, transportation, and environmental protection are common elements within a Growth Management Plan. Public and community engagement were an integral part of this Growth Management Plan to ensure policies and recommendations are reflective of the community’s vision.”


The objectives are listed as: 

•Encourage quality and sustainable growth.

•Guide citizens, elected officials, boards and staff as evaluations and decisions are made on rezoning and growth-related issues. 

•Recognize that sustainable economic growth, environmental protection and rural quality of life can be pursued together as mutually supporting public policy goals.

•Provide guidance on future investments for projects and community improvements.


Who uses a Growth Management Plan?

Users are landowners and the general public, developers, Planning Department staff, the Planning Board, the Board of Commissioners and the municipalities.


What are the impacts of Toyota/Wolfspeed?

The creation of thousands of jobs will have a ripple effect not only on the local communities but the broader region. High-paying jobs will fuel spending in the local economy. 


Those workers coming in create a surge in the demand for residential, commercial and industrial real estate. The resulting uptick in property values will spur development in the surrounding area. The population of northeast Randolph County is projected to grow from 55,917 in 2020 to 63,065 in 2040, or an increase of 13 percent.


Water and sewer infrastructure to the Toyota and Wolfspeed sites will necessitate coordination among the governments involved in the projects. Toyota’s access to US 421 has resulted in improvements to what’s known as the Carolina Core corridor. US 421 is slated to become the future Interstate 685. As a result, improvements to roads near the megasite should enhance the efficiency of the local transportation system.


What are growth areas on county maps?

For planning uses, the Growth Management Plan divides land into primary, secondary, rural and municipal growth areas.


A primary growth area is normally located adjacent to a municipality and can extend along major transportation corridors. These areas are likely to have access to urban infrastructure such as water and sewer. They are predominantly mixed-use with residential, commercial and industrial development. It’s a higher density development.


A secondary growth area is dominated by transitional residential development with major subdivisions between agricultural and commercial land uses. Public water and sewer are unlikely in the immediate future.


A rural growth area is characterized by traditional agricultural operations, pasture land, forestry, rural lot subdivisions and open space scattered non-farm residences or large tracts. Rural scenic vistas are a natural part of the landscape. Industrial/business development must not impact adjoining uses.


Municipal growth areas are contained within the corporate limits or extraterritorial jurisdiction of municipalities. Coordinated intergovernmental planning for land use, transportation, water/sewer infrastructure, scenic heritage preservation and economic development is encouraged.


The process to update the Growth Management Plan

Tonya Caddle, Randolph County Planning & Zoning director, said the Growth Management Plan process focused primarily on the growth associated with Toyota, protection of environmental aspects and infrastructure. She said the steering committee also looked at helping municipalities with their needs.


The Town of Staley was especially concerned with negative impacts on the rural nature of its expanded community. Town leaders asked that the area east of NC 49 be converted from a secondary growth area to a rural growth area to protect the local heritage. The commissioners agreed and amended the maps.


“We reevaluated land uses and what the future could look like in the growth areas,” Caddle said.


She added that the narrow transportation corridors of US 64 east from Asheboro to the Chatham County line and NC 49 from Ramseur to Liberty have been designated primary growth areas.


A transformational time for Randolph County

In a Nov. 27 interview, Hal Johnson reiterated the unique situation Randolph County is facing. 


“We’re in a time of change in Randolph County like we’ve never seen before. Toyota is the beginning of change. The update helps us going forward to accommodate growth.


“This is a most transformational time for the county. It’s not just Toyota but Wolfspeed. The Randolph County we know today will change. We want to make sure Randolph County government is ready to deal with it. The Growth Management Plan is the first step.”


The second step, Johnson said, is expansion of the water and sewer infrastructure, which “will impact us as never before. The state gave the county $85 million to upgrade and expand that.”


The expansion includes water and sewer lines up NC 49 from Ramseur to Liberty as well as a water line from the Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority to the City of Asheboro. That money does not include the $55 million the state is providing Asheboro to run water to the Wolfspeed site in Chatham County.


Johnson continued by saying, “The decisions we’re making today will impact those not yet born. That’s how critical the decisions are.


“We’ve always talked about location,” he said. “Randolph County is the center of the state and also the Eastern United States. That makes us the epicenter of development in North Carolina. We can’t avoid it.”


Johnson said he appreciated hearing the concerns from the people in Staley. That helped the steering committee “remember that rural quality of life is as important as the development coming. It says what we are as the Randolph County community. It’s more than houses and businesses. It’s also to protect the rural quality of life.”


The Growth Management Plan, Johnson said, “is designed with sensitivities to the rural environment. That’s important to the community.


“The Growth Management Plan is just a guide for future growth.”