Maybe you’re reading this while piled up in U.S. 15-501 traffic in Aberdeen. Or maybe you’re out on your back porch listening to the sounds of hammers pounding on yet another new roof on yet another new house behind you. Either way, you’re not going to believe what the new U.S. census has to say: Moore County does not have a growth problem.
OK, that’s not entirely true. Whispering Pines totally has a growth issue. The village population grew 70 percent in the past 10 years.
Foxfire, tucked away in a little corner of Moore County west of Pinehurst, isn’t exactly flying below the radar anymore, either. Its population grew 43 percent. More than 1,200 people now live in that village.
And yet, overall, the census would tell us Moore County isn’t really growing as rapidly as our eyes and ears would have us believe. The numbers, released in the last few weeks, indicate the county population expanded at an average annual clip of about 1,100 new residents a year.
But there’s plenty of room — and evidence — to argue with the census data. Local planners can’t keep up with all the new developments and permit requests being submitted. Municipal officials are seeing unprecedented demand for new services, and virtually everyone is in expansion mode for everything from garbage collection to fire protection. Towns from Carthage to Southern Pines are reviewing plans that would add significant new developments to their tax rolls.
Making Some Sense ...
In some places, the census seems to be tracking what’s happening on the ground. Whispering Pines went from 2,900 residents in 2010 to just under 5,000 last year.
“Anyone who has been in Whispering Pines in the last 10 years knows it has grown significantly over this period. From the village’s perspective, the impact has meant we’ve added staff to deal with the demand for service,” said Whispering Pines Village Manager Rich Lambdin.
The census also showed, as expected, growth in Pinehurst — 4,457 individuals over the last 10 years — and Southern Pines (more than 3,200 new residents). Southern Pines is the second largest municipality with 15,545 residents behind Pinehurst and its 17,581.
Aberdeen, which has seen explosive growth since 2000, grew at a healthy clip in the past 10 years but not as fast as the 10 years before that. Today, the town stands at about 8,500 residents, up from 3,600 20 years ago.
... But Confusing Elsewhere
But it’s clear the census’ count isn’t accurate in some spots. For instance, it showed almost no growth in Seven Lakes. Anyone who lives in Seven Lakes can tell you that’s not even close, given all the construction activity in those gated communities in recent years.
Overall, the 2020 census showed Moore County with a 13 percent increase in population, with the addition of 11,480 individuals since 2010. We grew 18 percent in the 10 prior years.
Are we to really believe growth is moderating, when commercial, business and residential development are white-hot? In June 2018, Moore County Planning issued 567 permits. That figure grew each successive year from 595 permits in June 2019, to 674 permits in June 2020, to 809 permits issued in June 2021. Several municipalities are hiring new planners because they’re unable to keep up with the work.
To some extent, we did this to ourselves. Moore County has traditionally boasted a strong response rate to the census, but last year our rates were off by almost half. That’s bound to influence the picture.
The on-the-ground evidence offers a contrasting view of the picture the census has drawn. For Moore County, anyway, this census doesn’t make sense to us.