WEST JEFFERSON — With a number of capital projects on the horizon for the Ashe County Board of Commissioners, a special work session was held Tuesday, Oct. 22, to discuss planning and logistics.
The nearly three-hour meeting was led by Phil Trew, High Country Council of Governments director of planning and development, on the second floor of West Jefferson Town Hall. In attendance alongside the commissioners were a few county employees, including Interim County Manager Adam Stumb, Finance Office Sandra Long and Director of Environmental Services Scott Hurley.
On the agenda for the meeting were a number of items related to land use and development, solid waste, new facilities for the Department of Social Services and Health Department, economic development, the current middle school property and other topics related to economic development.
Included in last week’s edition of Ashe Post & Times was an update from Hurley regarding progress in solid waste collection and transportation. Hurley also shared with the board that the paving project at the convenience center located on N.C. 16 should be completed by the end of the year. The board also discussed plans to construct a new convenience center on N.C. 163, which will be discussed further at a future meeting of the BOC.
Regarding land use and development, Trew discussed with the commissioners a potential need to consider different land-use regulations for properties adjacent to U.S. 221 as it continues to widen. Commissioner Larry Dix expressed a perceived need to consider the impacts of the U.S. 221 project on properties located in the area.
Following discussion, Trew set certain topics for the Ashe County Planning Board to address, including junkyard and solid waste ordinances, polluting industries and the potential for water and sewer to be extended past Westwood Elementary School on U.S. 221.
The meeting then shifted to discuss new facilities for DSS and the Health Department. Stumb said a committee was formed, including himself, DSS Director Tracie Downer, and AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene, among others, to organize a timeline and consider options for new facilities.
“Not to settle on anything at this point, but just to have those conversations early,” Stumb said.
Stumb added that space for the new facilities isn’t an issue, and the committee is almost at the point of soliciting engineers to work on site planning. He said hopefully by the first of next year, an engineer will be able to join in planning for the project.
Questions were raised during the meeting about whether the new facilities for both departments would be built in separate or combined buildings, and Stumb said a decision has not yet been made.
“There’s some advantages to keeping them separate, and there’s some advantages to keeping them adjoined,” Stumb said. “We haven’t ruled out separate buildings.”
Stumb added that an engineer would be able to help with that decision.
Trew then set goals for the board to determine the project’s construction and operation cost in the next few months, select a design firm and expected the project to not break ground until two to three years.
Related to economic development, several topics were discussed, with the general consensus being that elected officials and industry leaders in the county should be convened to discuss methods to continue economic growth in Ashe County.
The latest project to potentially expand economic growth for the county discussed during the meeting was a certain tract of land totaling some 41 acres located across from GE Aviation, near Ashe Services for Aging.
Economic Development Director Cathy Barr said three things need to take place related to the property before the county can move forward with potentially developing the site to accommodate new and expanding industries in the county: site acquisition, design and development.
Stumb said the county is currently in the due diligence phase for purchasing the land, but it has not yet been purchased by Ashe County Job Development. Barr also said the property would need to be rezoned from agriculture to industrial.
Also during the meeting, future use of the current building for Ashe County Middle School once the new building is completed in fall 2022 was discussed by commissioners and Director of Parks and Recreation Kevin Anderson.
A number of options for the future of the building were considered, with some commissioners discussing the possibility of converting the property for use by Ashe County Parks and Recreation. Anderson noted that if Parks and Recreation were to use the property, it would require more staffing, and the cost and maintenance of the property would need to be researched.
That decision would first fall in the hands of the Ashe County Board of Education as the owners of the current middle school property, Commissioner Chairman Todd McNeill said, adding that it would depend on whether the BOE would choose to sell the property back to the county as it has the right of first refusal on the property.
The special meeting came to a close around 12:30 p.m. with a list of goals and tasks for the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and Planning Board to discuss in future meetings.
“It was absolutely invaluable,” McNeill said, adding that he greatly appreciated Trew’s help with directing the meeting.