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Growth forecast slightly less

Garfield County’s population isn’t expected to triple over the next quarter of a century after all.It’s only projected to double-and-a-half.The state Demographer’s Office has revised its estimate, partly in response to fast-rising housing costs in western Garfield County, said Randy Russell, a planner for the county. The county is now projected to grow to about 130,000 people by 2030, from about 50,000 now.That’s still a lot of growth, Russell said Friday during the State of the Valley Symposium at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs.”We’re trying to figure out where all these new people are going to park,” Russell said.The county now is expected to see 4.6 percent annual growth over the next five years, compared to a projection by the state last year of 7.6 percent growth. The state also previously had forecast that the county would reach 148,000 total residents by 2030.In an interview, Russell said last year’s population projections were based in part on the assumption that there would be pent-up demand for new housing in the region as the country came out of the recession. But he said it’s now looking as if the growth in places such as Eagle County will be a little more moderate.Growth in Eagle and Pitkin counties serves as a driver for Garfield County growth. Housing is more affordable here, providing a place for much of the region’s labor force to live.But housing prices in Garfield County are rising, particularly in the western half of the county. Although prices there are still cheaper than in eastern Garfield County, they are going up at a faster pace, in part because of the boom in natural gas development from Silt to Parachute.Russell told participants in Friday’s symposium that some houses in Rifle are selling by word of mouth before even being listed for sale.”It’s gone sort of nutso,” he said.Price increases in western Garfield County could do more than just slow growth. They also could further reduce the affordable housing role Garfield County has played.”We’ve been the regional affordable housing bank for the whole area and I think it’s safe to say that that’s drying up now,” he said.As wealthy, retired baby boomers continue to move to the county, Russell worries where the middle-class work force will live.”The boomers are coming our way. I think we’re only seeing the leading edge of that,” he said.Russell said no one is building rental properties, and some communities don’t want them. That raises the specter of more homes being built outside incorporated towns and cities to meet the demand of a growing population.”How much of that new growth do you really want in unincorporated Garfield County?” Russell asked.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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