PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - It's an area that has almost tripled its population in the past few decades, and it's still growing.
Leaders in Pender County are trying to accommodate that growth.
Assistant County Manager Chad McEwen said people are building homes in Pender County because it's a quieter area to live with good schools that is close to Wilmington.
Pender Planning Director Kyle Breuer said the biggest developments in the works are Sparrow's Bend, Blake Farm and Wyndwater. All the neighborhoods have at least 300 residential units.
According to Breuer, these new developments are expected to bring not only a population increase, but also more traffic, students and commercial growth. The county's population in February was about 60,000 people.
Leaders said by the year 2035, Pender is expected to be the 37th most populated county in the state. It was No. 74 a few decades ago.
"Sometimes it's the chicken or the egg," McEwen said. "You can't necessarily get the residential growth until you get the commercial growth or industrial growth for people places for people to work, but the residential demand is definitely there and is definitely the largest percentage of our water demand."
According to the Office of State Budget and Management, the projected population in the year 2040 is 87,941, an increase of about 50 percent from 2018.
McEwen said the biggest challenge with the growth is the demand for water. Plans are in place to expand the water plant on Highway 421, and to create a new transmission line to help get water to the eastern part of the county.
According to McEwen, this project is expected to take place in the next five to seven years.
One resident said she thinks the county should do more to accommodate the growth.
"I'm worried. There's septic tanks where I live now. They don't have sewer there. I don't know if they'll ever have sewer there," Susan Cain said. "Having to go to Burgaw to get your water to fill out an application...I feel like the county is not keeping up with the growth and that's going to be really important or people will leave."
Breuer said the county has plans to use the Hampstead Bypass to help alleviate traffic. A study found between 2010-20, there is an anticipated 12 percent increase in traffic on U.S. 17.
The bypass, Breuer said, is expected to cut that in half.
The county is also opening four new schools in two separate buildings this fall — Penderlea Elementary and Middle School, and Surf City Elementary and Middle.
According to Breuer, county leaders are in the process of adopting Pender 2.0, a long-range plan for the county. It gives policies and goals as a road map for future growth over the next 30 years.
He said there will be an emphasis on directing new growth in places where infrastructure is planned or already exists.