In the southeastern part of Catawba County, there are about 7,500 residential units approved for construction.
While not all are actively being built or worked on, the construction promises a population explosion for the area. County leaders are working to address it.
County Manager Mick Berry asked the Catawba County Board of Commissioners to brainstorm what the southeastern part of the county needs to support the people moving there.
“What types of amenities do we have here or not have here? What do we know that we know our residents are going to need in that area? Not limit it to a county service or not a county service,” Berry said at a recent board work session. “We’re really trying to look at it holistically. What are … they really going to need (there) over the next 10 years to have a good quality of life?”
County leaders will assess all areas of the county for needs in the future, but the current focus is the Sherrills Ford area because it is growing the fastest, Berry said. The thousands of residential units included in approved projects could bring 10,000 or more people into Sherrills Ford, Berry said.
He asked the commissioners to consider what those people need once there, and how the county can keep them shopping, working and living in Catawba County.
“We don’t want all those people leaving the county,” Berry said. “We want them to be brought in as a Catawba County resident, to think, ‘Catawba County is my home; everything I need is being offered to me.’”
Because there is no municipality in place in the area, the county is the only governing body to provide services or have control over economic development, Assistant County Manager Mary Furtado said at the work session.
“We are the only governing body operating in that area at the moment,” Furtado said. “We don’t want to be reactive and find out that the one shot we had to generate a good quality of life there that we can be proud of has passed us by because we didn’t move in that direction.”
The commissioners and county staff are assessing the assets the county already has in the southeastern area of the county in terms of economic development, education, water and sewer infrastructure, retail and commercial development, transportation, medical, public safety, arts and cultural amenities and parks and recreation amenities.
From there, Berry asked the commissioners to brainstorm what gaps there are in those areas, what’s most important in the future and how the county might be able to help bolster some of those things.
If the county doesn’t have a direct hand in something, it may be able to help anyway.
One example Berry gave was big-box stores. The residents in the area will want to shop at big retailers, but there aren’t any in that portion of Catawba County, Berry said. The county has traditionally steered away from welcoming big-box retailers but residents in that area will likely drive to Lincoln or Iredell counties to shop at them, Commissioner Kitty Barnes said during the work session.
“They’re going to the big-boxes (in other counties) and we are not talking about them,” Barnes said. “We’re just letting those sales tax dollars leave us.”
The county could adjust policies or zoning rules to provide retail opportunities. In the case of arts and culture, recreation or medical growth, the county could work as a connector to help local organizations put efforts into that area, Berry said.
Commissioner Austin Allran asked about the potential that the area might be incorporated and a town formed.
“You’re talking about down the road,” he said. “Normally with 10,000 people you’d have a municipality, so I’m just wondering why we’re so, it seems like, fixated on the county doing all this stuff?”
Barnes, who lives in the area, said it’s unlikely a town would form any time soon. “Because you aren’t going to have a town down there for a long time,” Barnes said. “They don’t want it.”
Instead of focusing on what services or amenities the county would or would not provide, Berry asked the commissioners to think more generally about what is needed.
“It’s just trying to envision a community down there,” Berry said. “We know the seeds have been planted for this forest to grow, so as it starts growing you all as a leadership of the county are going to be the ones that largely determine things.”
The commissioners discussed how that area could be better connected to the rest of the county, so people might travel to other parts of Catawba County rather than heading to Charlotte.
Allran wanted to justify spending in that area to the rest of the county’s residents. “When we’re talking about what the county can do for that particular area, for the sake of everybody else and all the taxpayers, I really would like to know what some of this stuff will cost and how it benefits everybody else,” Allran said.
Barnes said much of the changes or county’s impact could be made through policy change or partnerships rather than expensive infrastructure.
The commissioners will continue to discuss the area and review the strategic plan for the entire area, Berry said.
What types of amenities do we have here or not have here? What do we know that we know our residents are going to need in that area?
County Manager Mick Berry talks about the future of Sherrills Ford