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Focus stays on key issues: Growth, homelessness

ASHEBORO — Asheboro/Randolph Chamber of Commerce members are back home from their annual retreat in Myrtle Beach on the weekend of Oct. 13-15. Doubtless, many are still digesting the large amount of information covered during the three-day event.


Linda Brown, out-going chamber president, said the event was attended by 87 members representing local business, civic and government organizations. Key issues reviewed included the challenges of expected growth and homelessness in the county.


The presentation on growth management was developed by county staff and presented by Tonya Caddle, county planning/zoning director, and William Johnson, assistant county manager, with comments from Michael Rhoney, Asheboro city engineer.


Presenters pointed out that the county’s current growth management plan was developed in 2009. The explosion of commercial development, particularly in the northeastern corner of the county, demands a new look at how the county can grow in a sustainable and efficient manner.


During the course of seven meetings held by a steering committee since January 2023, officials polled the public to find out what people were most concerned about as the growth materializes from the construction of the Toyota battery plant, Wolfspeed and the I-74 Industrial Center.


Key among the concerns heard from the public was the need to preserve green space and the “quietness of the countryside” many associate with Randolph County. According to the presentation, “Randolph County residents highly value the rural and small-town character of the area.”


County officials believe there is no reason why those concerns cannot be accommodated while still encouraging the kind of development that will bring good-paying jobs to the area. For example, during the presentation, it was pointed out that in the northeastern quadrant of the county, if every inch of available land was developed, the area could sustain 37,425 housing units. However, planners estimate the amount of commercial development expected over the next several years is only 3,104 housing units.


Brown said, according to her information, the city and county have already taken steps to address the expected need. She said Asheboro has recently approved over 700 new house zoning requests and the county has approved over 400.


Of course, all of this development will require infrastructure. The county water and sewer master plan tackles this problem after consultation with local municipalities to determine where the needs will be and how to pay for them. Much of the funding could be addressed through money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Also, the General Assembly approved over $85 million in monies to extend water and sewer transmission lines and provide maintenance.


Projects in the works include:

— Extending sewer lines to the I-74 Industrial Center.

— A 160-acre project between I-74 and U.S. 311.

— Expanding sewer lines in the Seagrove-Ulah area. 


The I-74 project is expected to be completed in January 2025. The Seagrove-Ulah project is slated to begin sometime before June 2024 with no projected completion date at this time. 

The City of Asheboro is also constructing a water line east along U.S. 64 to serve the Wolfspeed plant in Chatham County. That project is expected to be completed by January 2026.


As the county looks forward to years of new development and the opportunities it will bring, Brown said local officials are also dealing with a significant problem in the here and now. According to information gathered at an inter-agency meeting in August, homelessness in Randolph County takes a serious toll – not just on those who experience homelessness but also on government agencies.


City and county officials report increased homelessness-related calls to EMS, fire departments and law enforcement agencies. Responders report there are no simple cases as the people with whom they interact may need mental health support, substance abuse intervention, general medical care and/or detention for criminal activities.


Chuck Garner, Asheboro code enforcement officer, told attendees that a large part of his job involves trying to keep tabs on where the homeless congregate. He said at one point the city identified 17 homeless encampments with a combined population of roughly 150 people. The city notified those in these temporary shelters that the encampment would be removed and tried to give those involved information on other housing options, drug treatment and other counseling. 


Garner said, currently, the city believes it has reduced the number of encampments to three and the homeless population in Asheboro to around 50. A few have taken advantage of available programs. Some have moved on — either back with relatives, out of the county or possibly to other as yet identified temporary encampments. Sadly, Garner said, some will not accept help.


City and county responders have told officials they need greater coordination, case management, and increased access to mental health, substance use, and behavioral health services for this population. 


Much more was covered during the annual weekend, Brown said. Members received information on the ongoing impact on tourism from the COVID shutdown, growth plans at the N.C. Zoo, Randolph Community College plans for aiding workforce development and updates from community partners. Brown said the gathering provided great feedback from attendees and new energy to tackle problems going forward.