Commissioners hear concerns about Avery CARES building

NEWLAND — Avery County Board of Commissioners had a lot of ground to cover at its meeting on Monday, April 3, including a presentation on housing in the county and further discussions on the fate of the Avery CARES building.

During public comment, nine individuals spoke on the Avery CARES building. Following the announcement that the building was deemed irreparable and the commissioners’ decision to tear down the building, the board received numerous complaints from citizens that the building is historic and holds much sentimental value to a lot of people. Built by the WPA in the 1940s, community members shared their memories of the building as it was the library, community center, teen center, place for prom and dances, home for AA and NA and much more.

Speakers shared that they had fond memories of the building, whether it be from hanging out there as a teenager or if it was the reason one of their loved ones found sobriety. Several emphasized that the building impacted nearly everyone in the community in some way, while others explained that families and lives were saved thanks to the AA and NA programs the building housed.

The commissioners have already voted to tear the building down and build a probation and parole office in its space, but that vote can be reconsidered if there are other viable options for the building, commissioner Chair Martha Hicks explained. If there is an option that won’t cost the taxpayers a large chunk of money, they will look at it and consider it, Commissioner Dennis Aldridge said.

Jack Thomson, western office regional director of Preservation North Carolina, kicked off the public comments on the Avery CARES building by telling the board about what his organization does. Preservation NC is a nonprofit that aims to protect and save buildings and landscapes that represent the state’s unique culture and heritage.

“Preservation NC acquires endangered historic properties and then finds purchasers willing and able to rehabilitate them,” according to the organization’s website. “It has saved more than 800 endangered historic properties, generating an estimated $350 million in private investment. Many of the saved properties have truly been community landmarks.”

Thomson, a native of Avery County, shared that he has received numerous calls regarding the Avery CARES building. As a building that is obviously important to the community, he said, his organization would be willing to work with the county and see what it could do to help.

  • Avery is losing residents to Watauga County, but is also losing them to residential areas such as Asheville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Spartanburg.
  • In Avery, 3,660 residents are employed outside the county; 3,532 people commute to Avery to work. More than 60% of nonresidents surveyed said they would move here if they had somewhere to live, he said.
  • The number of cost-burdened residents, which means that they pay more than 30% of their income to housing, is 598 renters and 993 homeowners. Around 37 renters and 94 homeowners live in substandard conditions.
  • All apartments seem to be full, and there are no apartments serving the annual income range of $52,000 to $70,000.
  • Avery has a 99.6% occupancy rate. In a healthy market, that number should not be higher than 96%, he said.
  • In addition to a high demand for senior care facility housing, there is a high occupancy rate in those facilities, especially when compared to national rates.
  • In order to afford a modern house, meaning it was built in 1990 or sooner, a household would need to have an income of $140,000 or higher.
  • Out of the 145 houses for sale at the time of the study, 96 of them were more than $300,000. No houses were available for less than $99,000, and only 10 homes were available for less than $200,000.

The full report will be available on the county’s website soon, Barrier said.

Barrier announced that the paperwork for the GREAT grant is finally almost complete. It is in the final stages of being signed and approved by the internet service provider, county and any other third party partners. Once this paperwork is done, the opportunity to apply for the CAB grant is supposed to open, he said.

In other news and notes:

  • The commissioners approved the Avery County Board of Education’s request that the $354,000 needed to replace the bleachers at ACHS be requested to come from the state lottery funds.
  • Sheriff Mike Henley and Chief Deputy Van Williams explained that ACSO has acquired 44 handguns since Henley took office, replacing all the existing handguns the office had. The existing handguns were in varying condition, but Henley also wanted to change to a caliber that is cheaper and more readily available. Handguns went to patrol positions, both those that are existing and the ones that need to be filled, detectives and detention officers, and a number of them went into storage as backup.
  • Barrier reported that the property located near the area prison is not going to work for reentry housing, so Barrier has asked for an environmental review and extension for the CDBG reentry housing grant.
  • Feeding Avery Families’ open house at its new facility will be on Wednesday, April 26.
  • The commissioners passed a proclamation deeming April 2023 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

County offices will be closed on Friday, April 7, for Good Friday. In May through October, the commissioners will meet twice a month, on the first and third Monday. There will be a public input session on the national opioid settlement from 10 a.m. to noon on Monday, April 24, in the commissioners boardroom. The commissioners will hold a workshop at 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 27. Avery County Board of Commissioners’ next regular meeting will be at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, May 1.