WASHINGTON – Rockville fell from the second-largest city in the state in 1990 to the fifth-largest in 2000, outpaced by booming growth of more than 30 percent each in Frederick, Gaithersburg and Bowie.
Rockville’s population, by comparison, grew by just 5.7 percent in the decade, according to 2000 census data released Monday.
Baltimore easily retained the No. 1 ranking among cities in the state, despite a drop of 11.5 percent, or 84,860 people. The city’s 2000 population was still more than 12 times higher than current No. 2, Frederick.
While officials in the cities that moved up in the rankings said they welcomed the move, they were not crowing about it Tuesday.
“We’re very, very pleased to have everyone here. But it’s not necessarily what ranking we are in the state of Maryland that’s important,” said Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz. “Bigger is not necessarily better — better is better.”
Gaithersburg is in third place in the new rankings, just 154 residents behind No. 2 Frederick and its 2000 population of 52,767.
Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes said his city has grown steadily because of its emphasis on attracting businesses. That has helped push up the population by turning Frederick from a “one-time bedroom community” to a place where residents can both live and work, he said.
Grimes said Frederick has another advantage that some other cities do not — it has more land to build on.
“Rockville and Gaithersburg, they don’t have the land mass,” said Grimes, who said he was not surprised by the 2000 census figures because he has noticed a little growth every year.
While Gaithersburg has only about 10 square miles of land to Frederick’s approximately 23, its Smart Growth initiatives have helped push the city to third place, Katz said. Since 1990, the city has built residential units in three areas of the city — Market Square, Washingtonian Center and Old Town Gaithersburg — in which pedestrian-friendly developments attracted more people to the city, he said.
Rockville’s city manager also pointed to land as one reason why the city’s population grew more slowly than cities such as Frederick and Bowie. Rockville has less available land, and it tends to be more expensive, said City Manager Mark Pentz.
“Rockville is just a more expensive place to live,” Pentz said. “We support growth, but at the same time we want to make sure it’s managed and controlled properly.”
Rockville’s population should increase once two new town centers are completed, adding a total of about 4,700 more residential units, Pentz said. But those centers — King Farm and Falls Grove developments — are also eating up the last 850 acres of large open spaces in the city.
The only Maryland city in the top 15 to lose population, besides Baltimore, is Cumberland. It lost 2,188 residents as its population fell to 21,518 in 2000, a 9.2 percent drop.
A city official said one reason for the drop may be the lingering effect of the closing of one of the city’s largest employers, Kelly-Springfield Tires, which shuttered a Cumberland plant in the mid-1980s and closed its corporate headquarters last year.
Aging housing and no more room for expansion may be other reasons why Cumberland’s population has decreased, said Vicki Swink, the city’s community development specialist.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” said Swink, who added that several upcoming tourism and economic development projects should help. “We’re hoping this is as bad as it’s going to get.”