WASHINGTON – Calvert County is the fastest-growing county in Maryland, while Montgomery County continues to gain the largest number of new residents, the Census Bureau reported Thursday.
From April 1, 2000, until July 1, 2003, Calvert County grew 12.8 percent, to more than 84,000 people, more than three times the rate of growth for the state as a whole in that time.
Charles County had the second-fastest growth rate, at 10.4 percent, followed by Frederick County with 9.4 percent.
Over that same period, Montgomery County’s population grew by more than 45,000 — an increase greater than the total population of seven Maryland counties — to just over 918,000. Prince George’s County had the second-largest population increase, with more than 37,000 new residents, followed by Baltimore County with almost 23,000.
Only two places saw significant decreases over the three-year span. Baltimore City lost more than 22,000 people, or 3.5 percent of its population, and Allegany County lost more than 1,250 people, or 1.7 percent of its population, the government reported.
The population shifts did not come as a surprise to experts — but the potential shifts in the state’s politics, economics and development are not as apparent yet.
John Iceland, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, said affordable housing is one of the biggest factors driving the populations up in the “outer suburbs” of Washington, which include Calvert and Charles County.
“The D.C. metro area has been growing and will continue to grow,” Iceland said. “Suburbanization has continued with people moving to the suburban and outer-suburban areas.”
Calvert County’s director of planning and zoning said it is not just affordable housing and location bringing people to the county, but low taxes, good schools and the overall quality of life as well.
“It’s like a magnet attracting people,” said Frank Jaklitsch. “It’s a good place to live.”
So good, in fact, that the county hopes to cap growth at around 100,000.
“When people move in, we can’t provide facilities fast enough,” he said, referring to roads and schools, among other things.
In the mid-1990s, after estimating the county’s population would soon double, officials began to write tougher zoning laws to contain residential growth to specific areas.
“Some of the measures take a while to kick in,” Jaklitsch said. “By the end of this decade it (the population growth) should trail off.”
Charles County officials said they are in the same situation — and are trying to control the growth for very similar reasons. The county had targeted population growth at 2.8 percent per year, said spokeswoman Nina Voehl, so the numbers “are not that far afield.”
“We know the growth is there, but we didn’t know it was No. 2 (in the state),” she said Thursday.
In Montgomery County, home to one-sixth of the state’s population, the task is not capping growth, said Joe Shapiro, a spokesman for the county Department of Economic Development. It is making sure the new residents, who make up the most diverse population in the state, are fully aware of everything the county has to offer.
“Educating the public about what the county does and how we can help them is a major challenge,” he said.
To that end, ensuring there are jobs in the county will help increase tax revenues, which in turn can be used to fund programs for schools, senior housing and small businesses, among other areas, Shapiro said.
“It’s a challenge because this is a place where people want to live,” he said. But “these are the challenges we tackle with glee.”
Politically, the continuing population shift from the Baltimore region to the Washington region “won’t have any effect until 2010” when redistricting occurs, said Nicholas R. Miller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
But ideologically, policy may be influenced by whether or not new residents bring their politics with them or adopt local views, he said.
“These people are changing their place, but what is not clear is if they are changing their political views,” Miller said.
-30- CNS 04-08-04