Cost of Growth: Population surges in towns near Asheville

According to the town manager, Waynesville's population now stands at 10,100. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

As more and more people flock to Asheville, some surrounding towns are seeing spillover into their communities. It brings a boom to their local economies and populations.

But as some small towns are experiencing major success, others are shrinking.

Last week, we visited Rutherfordton, a place that has seen its population decrease over recent years.

News 13 researched the U.S. Census Bureau data and found that four Western North Carolina counties -- Rutherford, Mitchell, Yancey and Graham -- are smaller now than they were in 2010.

Of the other nearby counties, Buncombe and Henderson are growing the fastest .

Waynesville's 'easy feel'

In Waynesville, it's easy to find crowds of people popping in and out of local shops and enjoying the quaint downtown.

"I can honestly say that at least once a day we get someone in who says they are either thinking of moving here or have already moved here," store owner Jose Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who owns Main Street Mercantile, said business was so good a couple years ago, he's since expanded, opening two other stores.

"That's one reason we've been able to expand, seeing the influx of people coming in here," Gonzalez said.

Waynesville's population has jumped recently and has now reached just more than 10,000.

Those who live there said the location and lifestyle are what attract people to the area.

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"It's got a neat climate, a lot of nice people, there are opportunities here, maybe some smaller cities don't have the opportunities," Gonzalez said.

Town manager Rob Hites admits Waynesville was struggling during the recession.

But, he said, decades of downtown planning by local leaders laid the groundwork for today's success.

"All of a sudden, it's exploding again, and we are having to ramp up our planning departments and get back in the business of evaluating large commercial and individual projects," Hites said.

Hites said, over the years, the increase in population and popularity has led to a 7 percent increase in the local tax base.

"Yes, we're feeling it, our planning department is really strained to answer developer questions and sit down and a lot of people, to use an old saying, are kicking Waynesville's tires," Hites said.

He believes the proximity to Asheville and outdoor activities is a big sell for the small town.

"We're becoming a bedroom community, the Asheville metropolitan area, and as it becomes more expensive to locate in Asheville and Buncombe county, people are coming to the next largest city west of Asheville, that being Waynesville," Hites said. "When people locate here, we have a first-class recreation center, we have a trout stream that flows right through the middle of town, we have wonderful restaurants, but you can still get right over to Asheville."

Fletcher's future

On the other side of Asheville, Fletcher's population is skyrocketing, as well.

"Location, location, location, we're in a great central location here in WNC," town manager Mark Biberdorf said.

The Henderson County town saw a 15 percent increase in residents since 2010.

Biberdorf said the town is growing for a different reason -- because of all the open and buildable land.

"We've worked hard to constantly update our land development code and look at our policies to maintain that balance where we have decent land use controls but they are adapting to the situation," Biberdorf said.

Unlike Waynesville, Fletcher doesn't have a decades old downtown to renovate.

Instead, Biberdorf said the town is trying to build one from scratch.

"We have a lot of new development, so it's kind of green filled, building the downtown from where nothing existed there or vacant undeveloped land," Biberdorf said.

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Biberdorf said Fletcher's parks, planning, and lower priced property have been key to its success.

"There's things you can do to guide growth, but you can't absolutely control it," Biberdorf said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Buncombe and Henderson have seen their populations grow 8 percent since 2010.

The next biggest boom was in Jackson County, which saw a 7 percent increase.

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