August 29, 2008

For First Time This Decade, City Grows

By Jeannette Scott

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Lancaster city has broken its losing streak with its first population increase in at least eight years.

The Census Bureau released its latest population estimates Thursday, tallying the city's population at 54,672 as of July 2007. That's up 21 people from 2006; a small, but significant number as it bucks the city's norm.

"Well all right! We're on a roll!" declared Mayor Rick Gray upon hearing the news.

"Frankly, last year I thought that they were wrong," he said of the Census Bureau's estimate that the population had dropped by 150 people. "How they count people, I don't know. But that's great news. Even a small increase like that is a sign that we're beginning to turn things around."

Since the 2000 census, the city lost an estimated 336 residents a year, on average. Last year's estimated 150-person dip and the previous year's 180-person loss were dramatic improvements.

Urban living is becoming more desireable, and energy costs may be a factor, the mayor said.

"I live in a row house, so I heat the front and the back," the mayor said by cell phone. "I walk to work, I walk home; in fact, I'm walking to a meeting right now.

"I filled my gas tank up twice this year, I think, so far," said Gray.

Estimated population changes up or down are neither good or bad, said Michael Sprunger, executive director of Lancaster City Living.

For example, he said, a household of seven people may move out and a retired or childless couple may buy and "rehab" the home, thereby decreasing population but increasing property value.

"The people moving in tend to be retirees and young professionals," said Sprunger.

Overall, Lancaster County grew by an estimated 4,616 residents in 2007, according to the Census.

James Cowhey, executive director of Lancaster County Planning Commission says that's right on target.

"That's in the range that we have expected. For the last several years we have been just shy of 1 percent [growth]," he said. "I think population-wise, that's what our plan has been based on for some time now."

The Census Bureau estimates Lancaster County's population at 498,465. Assuming the one percent growth rate, it should easily top half a million residents next year.

Continued growth, Cowhey said, will occur in "the central part of the county which now has about 43 percent of the population - in the metropolitan core."

Elizabethtown and Mount Joy will also absorb some of the influx, and "We'll continue to see some growth around the Ephrata and Cocalico areas."

Elizabethtown's population is 12,072, a 1.2 percent increase over 2006, according to the Census estimates. Mount Joy's population is 7,219, a 2.44 percent increase.

Across the county, all but one municipality showed increased or neutral growth in the estimates.

Only Bart Township shows a loss. The estimated population is 3,059 - down just one resident from the previous year.

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