The number of residential building permits issued in Moore County tapered off slightly in 2019. But, overall, upward growth trends are expected to continue into the new year.
“We are seeing steady growth. Which is to say, we didn’t see anything significantly different this year,” said Warren Wakeland, executive officer of the Moore County Home Builders Association (MCHBA).
He attributes much of the recent population growth to military-related homebuyers, but said Moore County remains an attractive retirement destination and more folks who choose to live here and commute elsewhere for work.
“There are several factors contributing to our growth as a whole. We are seeing more ex-urbs who don’t want to live in congested areas. They are okay with a one-hour drive because they want their families in an area they are comfortable with. The congestion of places like Raleigh drives them here.”
To our northern boundary, Lee County has seen a 35 percent increase in residential building permits this year, according to Market Edge, a Tennessee-based building permit compilation service.
Other nearby counties experiencing an uptick in residential permits include Cumberland (10 percent) and Harnett (2 percent). Comparatively, Moore County had a 7 percent drop while Hoke (-22 percent) saw a substantial slowdown in the number of permits issued.
Moore County’s planning office tracks building permits on a quarterly basis. The most recent report indicates similar numbers with a slight slowdown over 2018 totals.
“We did flatten out a little this year compared to the past,” said Wakeland. “But if you look at our overall permit numbers, they have held fairly steadily since 2013.”
The more robust economy over the last six years has also brought more new retirees to the area, a traditional demographic for Moore County. In addition, Wakefield said other residents are opting to stay and “age in place” rather than move elsewhere.
“Our custom builders tell me they are busy,” he added “We are seeing people moving here to build their dream homes.”
A newer trend locally and nationwide is people choosing to make home renovations that allow them to “age in place.”
“People look at the price of housing today and decide the best thing is to stay in place and renovate what they have. We are seeing a lot more movement to achieve those goals. It’s harder to retire now than it was 20 years ago, costs are higher. But people are also looking at their community and they don’t want to leave that behind.”
However, Moore County has little in the way of affordable housing, particularly in the more populous southern end.
“This is something we would like to see addressed,” Wakeland said, noting the MCHBA is working with Moore County Schools and Sandhills Community College to develop skilled trades programs -- careers that will pay well and also meet the demand for jobs in the construction industry.
“More and more families are coming to Moore County and their kids may go to college or not. But when they start working they’re finding it tough to live here because of pricing. We want our kids to be able to live in the same community where they grew up, the homebuilders agree with that 125 percent.”
“The way to make that happen is to have affordable housing and good jobs. From a housing perspective, we need to broaden the base of what is being permitted and that takes our elected officials."
Looking ahead, the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) predicts the area’s population will surpass the 100,000 mark next year. By 2030, another 20,000 to 25,000 people could be living here.
“We have to prepare as if growth is coming. These are calculations and we don’t know if the numbers are exactly right, but we have to be prepared,” Wakeland said.
But the number of residential permits does not necessarily reflect the balance that is needed to maintain the area’s quality of life.
In particular, schools and roads have felt the pressure from the steadily increasing growth over the past decade. New private, charter and public schools have all opened in recent years to accommodate the influx of students.
This summer the state Department of Transportation announced that all major road construction in Moore County would be postponed after the 2024 U.S. Open. This includes road widening projects on N.C. 5 and N.C. 211, plus the so-called Super Street project through the heavy commercial areas of Southern Pines and Aberdeen on U.S. 1 and U.S. 15-501.
“DOT got pinched with the hurricane damage and then the U.S. Open coming. They made the decision that they didn’t want to have those roads under construction or blocked. That was a good decision.”
One road he’d like to see added to the list of committed projects is the Western Connector, a proposed bypass between West End and Aberdeen. Currently the road is included in the county’s long-range transportation plan, but no routing, funding or construction timeline has been approved for the next decade.
“We are struggling with growth now because we didn’t properly plan 20 years ago. We need to be planning today for 20 years out. We don’t want to make that same mistake again.”
“I think our county manager and elected officials and DOT all recognize that. No one wants to make those same mistakes. To be done the right way will be an evolving process.”