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THE BIG BOOM: In Mills River, average cost of a home soars to $547,000

MILLS RIVER — Mills River Town Manager Daniel Cobb described growth in the community as “going pretty well” with new projects picking up noticeably in the past year or so.

“Mills River is a very popular place to want to be,” he said. “We have larger projects now on the docket. Farmers are aging out and selling their land, often to developers.”
Cobb noted that the Mills River Crossing development underway in town was once farmland.
Demand for housing in Mills River is high and is being met with large projects planned for the community, Cobb said. The town has approved 283 homes in 10 subdivisions.
Home prices have increased along with high demand.
The town has seen a steady increase in housing prices each month for many months, Cobb said.
In Mills River the average home price from comparable months from one year to the next rose from $412,000 to $547,000, $20,000 more than the countywide average.
The high cost of housing in Mills River means that it is often difficult for middle-class buyers, including teachers and firefighters, to find affordable housing in the town, Cobb said.
Many of the people moving in are relocating from larger metropolitan areas. Some of the newcomers are able to work remotely while living in Mills River. The option gives people with jobs in cities the freedom to live and work from their homes in the mountains.
Good schools, good weather and a beautiful environment also make the community a desirable place to relocate, Cobb said.
Most of the new projects in Mills River are connecting to water systems, but not all are able to access a sewer service. The lack of public sewer makes a difference in how developments are built. Whether sewer service is available in Mills River depends on where the development is located, Cobb said.
“Without public utilities, you can’t have as high a density development,” he said. “It can have a pretty significant impact.”
Mills River leaves road work to the state and developers.
The only road the town maintains is the drive into the town hall. All other roads in Mills River are either maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation or are private roads leading into and out of developments, Cobb said, noting that congestion seems to be increasing.
Mills River offers planning and zoning services but contracts to provide fire and law enforcement protection. Fees offset some of the cost of providing land-use services, Cobb said.
Growth in the last couple of years led to the need for a new position in the town’s parks department.
In the budget the town adopted in June, Mills River also created a full-time position in the planning department. The position is open and the town is accepting applications. 
Mills River Town Park became more popular during the pandemic and led to the need for a new position, Cobb said.
“We see more usage than a couple of years ago,” he said.
The 48-acre park includes 1¼ miles of paved multi-use trail, tennis/pickleball courts, a basketball court, baseball diamond, picnic shelter, dog park, playground, and more. It draws an average of 8,000 visitors per week, according to information on the town’s website.
Mills River also owns a 21½-acre piece of property between Banner Farm Road and Presbyterian Church Road that also has been designated for recreational use. In May of 2021, Mills River Town Council approved a master plan for the parcel. The property is envisioned to be the future home of the Mills River Farmers Market and will include passive recreational amenities such as walking trails, an outdoor classroom and a bicycle playground. No funding is currently dedicated to the project, and there is no timeline for completion.

  A previous version of this story mentioned a part-time code enforcement officer in Mills River. That position was funded in June 2021 and does not address new construction.