Credit: Credit: Emily Hays, Charlottesville Tomorrow

Albemarle continues attracting more people

Albemarle County’s population continues to increase while Charlottesville’s recent growth has slowed down, according to new data published by Weldon Center Cooper for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

Albemarle’s population on July 1, 2017, was estimated to be 107,697, an 8.8 percent increase over the 2010 Census figure of 99,010. About two-thirds of the increase was newcomers migrating to the county.

The center’s 2016 estimate for Albemarle was 105,715.

“I’m not surprised, because every time you turn around there seems to be more people on the roads,” said Ann Mallek, the chairwoman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

The Weldon Cooper Center estimates the population of Charlottesville is 49,132, a 13.1 percent increase since the 2010 Census.

However, population growth in Charlottesville appears to have slowed down. The 2017 estimate for Charlottesville is only slightly higher than the 2016 estimate of 49,071.

“I am always wary of reading too much into a one-year change for a single locality, but the increase in population for Charlottesville was easily the slowest increase this decade and probably since the early 2000s,” said Hamilton Lombard, a demographer with the Weldon Cooper Center.

Lombard said the figures were derived in part by reviewing building permits and counting new driver’s licenses. He said the data now being collected for all of 2017 could mean the new numbers do not reflect a trend.

“Given that there was a large amount of building permits issued last year and a lot more planned development within the city, I would expect population growth to pick up in next year’s estimates,” he said.

In Albemarle, Lombard said a large amount of new home construction was the biggest factor in the estimated increased.

“There were 856 residential units authorized for construction in 2016, up from 325 in 2009,” he said. “Albemarle’s K-12 school enrollment, which we use in the estimates, also grew by the largest amount in over a decade. This is particularly notable given that statewide public school enrollment is barely growing.”

The Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area now has an estimated population of 235,096, an increase of 7.5 percent since 2010. The MSA is made up of the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene and Nelson counties.

Fluvanna has grown 3 percent since 2010, from 25,691 to 26,467.

Greene’s population is estimated at 19,985 people, up from 18,403 in the 2010 Census, for an 8.6 percent increase. Louisa County also has grown, from 33,153 people to 35,035, or a 5.7 percent increase. Orange County had a similar gain, going from 33,481 to 34,521, for a 3.1 percent increase.

Buckingham County’s population has dropped 1.1 percent from the 2010 Census count of 17,146 to a 2017 estimate of 16,957. Nelson County’s population also dropped 1.1 percent, from 15,020 in 2010 to a 2017 estimate of 14,858.

Lombard said Virginia code requires the Weldon Cooper Center to produce the estimates each year so fresh information can be used in formulas that guide state funding.

“Since Virginia has a fairly centralized state government, the estimates are particularly useful for reallocating funding,” Lombard said. “On the local level the estimates are often used for planning purposes.”

Mallek said the challenge for local government is to make sure there is adequate infrastructure to support the new arrivals.

The county used to be able to accept payments and amenities from developers to offset the cost of development in exchange for rezoning land, but a 2016 law ended what was known as the county’s proffer policy.

“If we had impact fees and other things we’re still trying to get from the legislature, we’d be more proactive,” Mallek said.

Many localities in the United States are able to levy such fees to help pay for the cost of development. State Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, has filed a bill that would expand the number of counties that use them. SB208 is in the Senate’s Local Government Committee, but no hearing date has been scheduled.

The president of a group that seeks to cap the number of people living in the area said the lower numbers in Charlottesville could reflect the rising cost of living within city limits.

“As these numbers seem to attest, real estate costs have begun to assert a greater impact on the city’s capacity to absorb more residents, a factor to which the county — especially the urban ring — will become increasingly vulnerable,” said David Shreve of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population.

Shreve said increasing the number of housing units in the area could lead to unintended consequences.

“It is an approach that is destined to disappoint on the affordability front, all the while imposing far greater public service costs, environmental degradation, and density-related livability problems than any new revenue or managerial reforms could possibly offset,” he said.

Loudoun County, the fastest-growing county in Virginia, jumped 26.8 percent over the seven-year period starting in 2010, increasing from 312,311 to 396,068.

Rural counties across the state continue to shed people. For instance, Buchanan County’s population has dropped 8.7 percent since 2010 to 22,004.

Virginia’s population overall has increased 5.9 percent since the Census to a 2017 estimate of 8.47 million.

Blacksburg’s metropolitan area has increased by 2.7 percent during that time to a population of 183,054. Harrisonburg’s metropolitan area is experiencing more rapid growth, with a population of 135,355, up 8.1 percent since 2010.

The Weldon Cooper Center is working with the U.S. Census Bureau to prepare for the 2020 count that’s required by Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

“Right now we are helping the bureau by checking their list of 3.5 million-plus Virginia residential addresses against state address files,” Lombard said. “When the 2020 census count is released we will be involved in reviewing them and looking for any errors that require adjustments.”