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New suburbs growing while older ones shrink

There's no denying the region's population is shrinking, but some local communities are still growing.

The population of Wheatfield grew 21 percent, or nearly 3,000 people, since 2000 -- the largest increase for any town in Erie or Niagara counties over the past decade, according to new estimates.

"Actually, I thought it would be more than that," said Joseph Caturia, head of the town's building department. "There's definitely a good amount of houses going up; a lot of kids in the area."

The U.S. Census Bureau is still in the midst of its official 2010 head count but has annually estimated local populations by adjusting the 2000 results using birth, death and migration information, plus data from tax returns.

The 2009 estimates were released last week.

Clarence, for example, rose 7 percent to more than 28,000 people over the past decade. The numbers are up 4.7 percent in Pendleton; up 3.5 percent in Orchard Park and the Town of Lockport; and up 3.4 percent in Lancaster.

The problem is it's hardly new growth to the region. Many of those residents are coming from other parts of Erie and Niagara counties, as they look for bigger homes and backyards.

"I think for the most part, that's the case," Caturia said, in reference to Wheatfield.

Meanwhile, the population dropped 8.3 percent in the City of Tonawanda since 2000; 8 percent in the Town of Tonawanda; 7.8 percent in Lackawanna; 7.6 percent in Niagara Falls and 7.5 percent in the cities of Buffalo and Lockport, estimates show.

Amherst, the region's largest town, saw its population dip by about 1,000 people during that period. Cheektowaga's went down 6.8 percent.

The figures show that both the growth in the region's outlying suburbs and the decline in its cities and older suburbs have slowed the past couple years.

Some speculate that the tough economy has slowed the migration, as residents opt to stay put.

David Metzger, senior code enforcement officer for the Town of Clarence, has noticed more people remodeling and renovating their homes the past few years, as opposed to moving or building new.

"Ten years ago I'd say we were doing 200 single-family homes a year," Metzger said. "Now, we're in the neighborhood of 50 homes a year."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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