Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Land Use in Pocahontas County

Recently, I've been reading and thinking about land use issues, so this article from the May 3 issue of the Pocahontas Times was timely for me. I'm quoting it at some length because in two days it will disappear into the unsearchable land of the for-pay archives, and I'm sure I'll want to refer to it again someday. Here's some of what David Holtzman had to say about Rising land values cast shadow over farming in Pocahontas.

...As property values climb, the logic of selling the farm to a developer becomes harder to resist....

Though the changes are most noticeable within a few miles of Snowshoe Resort, land values have risen steadily throughout the county, as more people find the area desirable for their second homes....Fortunately for residents who dislike the appearance of subdivisions like those just north of Lewisburg, in Greenbrier County, people moving to Pocahontas County tend to like the rural, isolated landscape and don't want to look out their window into their neighbor's house. Most sales are of unimproved lots of at least two acres, and the buyers hire contractors to build their houses. Unlike many people settling in Greenbrier and Monroe counties, newcomers in this area are typically not moving here on a full-time basis, and they aren't concerned with having easy access to services.

That doesn't mean newcomers have an interest in living near working farms, however. The main attraction for outsiders is the area's recreation opportunities, which are found in the forests that make up some 70 percent of the county. Moreover, people like that much of the forest is under state and federal protection.

"The county has so much land that's not going to be developed," said Oak Hall, who owns Red Oak Realty. "And much of what's not publicly owned is owned by timber companies or farmers who have had the land for generations. There's a scarcity of land and people expect that will continue, so their investment will be protected."

Contractors and realtors say they are selling and building almost exclusively for people coming here from other parts of the country, with just a handful of migrants from cities in this state. Almost no one is building homes for Pocahontas County natives, who have been largely priced out of the market.

"I'm doing a home now for a lawyer who's putting $70,000 into his kitchen," said Calvin Butler, whose company, Express Builders, is active in the Snowshoe area. "Most people from around here can't afford $70,000 for their whole house."

One result of the focus on building second homes is that fewer people live here year-round. In 2000 nearly half the homes in Pocahontas County were vacant part of the year. That means less of a demand for county services such as water and sewer connections and ambulances.

Still, the recent controversies involving the proposed Slaty Fork sewage treatment plant and emergency services suggest newcomers could eventually put a strain on the county's resources....

...The county has been losing farms and farmers since at least 1950, when there were 1,114 farms on over 206,000 acres. By 1987 there were just 379 farms on 118,000 acres, as many people got out of the business. Those numbers have actually stabilized since then, but now development threatens to send them on another downward spiral.

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