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The Washington Post - 5.5.02

The Washington regions rapid growth of the 1990s has continued at an intense pace despite the economic downturn and efforts in some counties to slow the sprawl, the Census Bureau will report today.

Loudoun Countys 13 percent population increase over 15 months ranked second in the nation last year, according to new census estimates. And the Washington suburbs increasingly drive the growth in Maryland and Virginia.

The Washington region, stretching from the rural Fauquier County to the wharves of Annapolis, numbered 5.5 million people July 1. That is an increase of 132,000 people since the census was taken in April 2000. Nearly one in six of those newcomers live in Loudoun County.

The Fresh figures put the region on track to equal its performance of the last decade, when it expanded more rapidly than any other big metropolitan area outside the Sun Belt. The growth is proof of the areas attractiveness as a place to live, even as it has produced frustrating traffic jams, soaring home prices and crowded schools.

A central reason for the areas allure is that it has had the fastest growing job base of the nations largest metropolitan areas, said regional economist Stephen Fuller, who teaches at George Mason University. The nations economy was in a recession at the time the census figures showed the region still growing.

Although it slowed compared with 2000, it was still the top dog, Fuller said of the area economy. And its the only metro area [of the top 10] showing job growth right now.

Another quality that sets the region apart from some others is its racial and ethnic diversity, which Fuller said is a draw for other minorities. Racial and ethnic minorities account for most population growth both in the county and in the Washington area. Immigrants, many of whom are minorities, are a key reason for population increases in some D.C. suburbs.

Washingtons suburban counties dominated the charts in Maryland and Virginia. They made up 86 percent of Marylands growth, compared with 79 percent during the 1990s, and 59 percent of Virginias, compared with 43 percent in the 1990s.

The forces driving the increase differ from place to place. In the more established areas of Alexandria and Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties, births and immigration are crucial.

Fairfax and Montgomery counties rank among the top 20 in the country for immigration growth since 2000, according to the Census Bureau figures.

In the newer outer suburbs--Anne Arudel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Loudoun, Prince William, St. Marys and Stafford counties births and people moving from other U.S. communities drove up the count. Frederick had a larger gain than during any year of the 1990s, according to the Maryland Department of Planning.

Loudoun County grew by 21, 000 people since the census was taken, the largest numerical increase in the Washington area. The growth report from the Census Bureau staggered even those in Loudoun who have seen sharp increases for years.

It isnt unexpected, but the sheer mass of it is still something to behold, said Ben Mays, Loudouns chief budget officer. Thats taking a good, medium-sized city in most of Virginia and plopping it down in Loudoun County.

Fairfax City, for example, has a population of nearly 21,500.

Thats a lot of people and a lot of services, added Mays, who views the newcomers through the plain arithmetic of public demands. The arrival of 21,000 people translates to one more 911 call per hour, 365 days a year, Mays said.

The country will need 17 more sheriff's deputies, seven new athletic fields two new group homes for the mentally disabled, he said.

Slow-growth movements are building in many of the outer counties, but nowhere have they taken hold more than in Loudoun, which nearly doubled in population in the 1990s.

Eight on nine Loudoun supervisors were elected in 1999 promising to slow growth. They say they are determined to make a difference, but growth has continued because they are limited in what they can do quickly. They contend that their predecessors approved so much development that it might take a decade to put the brakes on.

We have wiped out tens of thousands of units. But there are tens of thousands of units that can be built by right, and theres absolutely nothing this board can do, said Board Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large). We dont have any control over that. What we do have control over is the future of our county.

Not everyone frets about the explosive population growth.

Congratulations, Loudoun County! said Jack Shockey, president of the pro-development group Citizens for Property Rights and frequent critic of the slow-growth supervisors. I wish we were number one of all the counties in the U.S.We have 200,000 acres of open land out here just waiting for people to come on board.

The Census Bureau estimates said Arlingtons population dropped by about 2,000 because of people because of people moving out. But census officials also warned that they were not completely confident about that figure, and Virginia estimates say Arlington had a slight population gain during the period.

The Districts population estimates, released in December, showed its population has stabilized after years of loss at about 572,000.

Unlike the door-to-door census, the annual county estimates are based on birth and death certificates, immigrant visas, tax returns and other government data.

The new census estimates show that birthrates may be rising again after a dip in the 1990s.

A good part of that would be [because of] immigration, said Drew Dedrick, chief of Montgomery Countys research division. We are a family place. We have a great school system, and it helps attract immigrant families. Immigrants are of that childbearing age group.

The baby boomlet is filling hospitals in Northern Virginia, too. Reston Hospital Center is constructing a five-story maternity building, scheduled to open in 2004. It already has converted a waiting room into a medical area to accommodate demand.

Our maternity unit opened February 14, 1989Valentines Dayand it was built for 1,200 births annually, hospital spokesman Denise Dancy said. This year, we anticipate 2,500 births.