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2010 census reveals winners and losers; Lancaster, Wheatfield see massive growth; Broadway-Fillmore, Niagara Falls suffer greatest losses

This story can be told with two neighborhoods.

The first is in the southern part of Lancaster, where open fields suddenly give way to a continuous stretch of newer homes in a developing subdivision on William Street.

No other tract in Erie County had more population growth over the past 10 years.

"I get up in the morning and there are deer all over," said Kim Carroccia, 39. "The country setting is absolutely breathtaking out here."

The second is an old Polish neighborhood scattered with vacant lots and battered homes on the southern edge of Buffalo's Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.

No other tract in Erie County lost more population in the last decade.

"Nobody's trying to redevelop. Nobody's trying to do anything with this area," said Coit Street resident Darlene Morton, 49. "I think we've been forgotten."

The release of the 2010 census last week showed the Buffalo Niagara region endured its fourth-straight decade of population decline, but just as striking is how the region's core continues to hollow out as its people spread out.

Clarence and Wheatfield grew the fastest.

Grand Island, Lancaster, Orchard Park and Pendleton all posted gains of more than 5 percent.

Growth in East Amherst and around the University at Buffalo solidified Erie County's largest town as the region's suburban king.

But the decade of the 2000s was a much different story elsewhere around the region.

While the population of Buffalo -- led by the flight of more than 27,000 whites out of the city -- dropped to less than half of what it was at its peak in 1950, losses in some of the city's older suburbs also seemed to gain steam.

The first-ring suburbs of West Seneca, Cheektowaga and the Town of Tonawanda lost more than 11,500 people combined.

This sprawling pattern should be as much of a concern as the region's population losses, said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

"We have this smaller and smaller base of people trying to support a larger and larger base of infrastructure, some of which is falling apart already," Dyster said.

Dyster hopes that perhaps these latest figures serve as wake-up call.

"If you're going to have those kinds of problems, and at the same time you're not growing, that could be fatal," Dyster said.

Kevin Gaughan agrees.

That's what he's been saying for years, as the region has watched its stagnant population get reshuffled with each decennial census.

"There are no winners," said Gaughan, an attorney and regional activist. "No one is moving here from outside the region. Any small gain in one town is more than offset by a loss in another town or village."

Gaughan's recent crusade to downsize government began years ago with his campaign to educate both himself and local leaders about the negative effects of sprawl.

But as the 2010 census shows, the pattern has only continued.

"I spent a decade doing everything but backflips trying to get our local politicians to understand the value of regional planning," Gaughan said. "I realized that whole effort had led to virtually nothing."

Here's a look at the 2010 census beyond the numbers. It's a picture of the faces and places across Buffalo Niagara.

>Lancaster: Biggest growth tract in Erie County

Two years ago, Kim Carroccia was driving for ice cream when she found her future in Lancaster.

"I was like, 'Oh my God, I want this house. I want this property,' " the 39-year-old mother said.

Carroccia was one of 2,193 people who moved into census tract 142.06, an area south of Broadway, in the past decade -- the greatest influx for any census tract in Erie County. The tract showed a 46 percent increase.

She said the birth of her now-19-month son, Rosario, and the slow deterioration of her old neighborhood prompted her to move from Cheektowaga.

"We were on top of one another," Carroccia said. "I heard my neighbor flushing his toilet. I was like, 'I need to get out.' "

The solution?

A three-bedroom home in Lancaster that's twice the square footage of her previous house, and closer to family.

When Cindy Ross moved to her home in the Summerfield Farms subdivision, she was near the end of the complex. Three years later, 17 more homes have stretched south.

"New phase now available," a sign reads.

The growth isn't as steep as it was from 1990 to 2000, when Erie County's hot spot gained nearly 2,800 more residents than it did this past decade.

Still, Supervisor Robert H. Giza credits the addition of movie theaters, churches, a senior citizens' home and, on Transit Road, a brand new Walmart.

"I'm trying to get as much into the town, so people don't have to leave the town," he said.

The population of Lancaster now stands at 41,604, a 6.6 percent increase.

Some critics have questioned the area's constant growth and its potential impact on what used to be a more rural character, Giza acknowledged.

"It's kind of cruel to say this," Giza said, "but if you really want to make sure nothing's going to be built, then you've got to buy the land."

Through all the changes, the tract -- bordered by Aurora Street on the west, Town Line Road on the east, Hall Road on the south and just south of Broadway on the north -- has remained 97 percent white, with 40 blacks, 50 Asians and 3 Native Americans.

"I think anyone who can afford a home and can live here should be able to," Giza said. "They're welcome here. We don't have guards."

Especially not at places like Carroccia's, where just next door, a construction crew on Friday hammered away at a brand new home.

-- Charlie Specht

>Broadway-Fillmore: Biggest decline in Erie County

Forgotten and forsaken.

That's how residents feel in census tract 16, the southern end of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.

The rectangular census tract between Broadway and William Street lost 47 percent of its population -- more than 2,000 residents -- over the past decade. That's the biggest population drop of any census tract in Erie County.

Fewer than 2,300 residents remain.

Sitting in the shadow of soaring and venerable churches -- St. John Kanty and Corpus Christi -- are weary old homes with broken and missing windows, boarded-up doors, faded paint, sagging rooftops and broken-down porches.

In between stand vacant lots and lived-in homes struggling to fight the tide of desolation. The old Central Terminal and railroad tracks line the southern boundary of the tract, bounded by Smith Street to the west and Bailey Avenue to the east.

"It's a wreck now," said 58-year-old Clark Street resident Ed Kijania, who left the neighborhood in 1987 for Florida and returned in 2000. "It used to be beautiful."

This area was once home to a large Polish population. Most left decades ago. In more recent years, residents -- both black and white -- have left to flee the crime and overall neglect that has taken hold here. Others passed away.

"They're not moving," said Coit Street resident Diane Kilanowski, 57. "They're dying."

Kilanowski's home was built in 1816 and has been in her family for three generations.

With the city's help in 2006, Kilanowski got a redevelopment loan to side and reroof her house. But the contractors did such a shoddy job that moisture leaked into the walls and she can't live on the first floor anymore because of all the mold.

Nobody wants to help, she said, despite the countless calls she's made for assistance.

That's the story in a neighborhood where the remaining habitable homes sell for $1,000 or $2,000 a pop. Redevelopment programs here have failed so far, she said.

Since 2000, this part of town has lost 1,094 blacks and 893 whites.

Morton, an M&T Bank clerk from Coit Street, doesn't blame people for leaving.

Her own home is modest but warm. She owns it free and clear and is glad she has a working alarm system.

But the area isn't safe, and there's no sense of community pride. She's embarrassed to tell co-workers where she lives and doesn't invite them over.

Just recently, she said, someone came through the neighborhood and scraped the inspection stickers off people's windshields to resell on the street. Her car was one of the ones left with a cracked windshield.

"If opportunity allows, and I can get enough money where I can afford to, I'd live somewhere else," she said. "I'd move, too."

-- Sandra Tan

>Clarence: Boom town in Erie County

Clarence gained more than 4,500 residents in the past decade, an increase of 17.4 percent. The boom town now has 30,673 residents, more than Orchard Park, another growth community. But it wasn't just open spaces new residents were looking for.

Census tract 146.04 in the town -- bounded on the west by Transit Road, on the north by Lapp Road, on the east by Heise and Thompson roads and on the south by Roll Road -- gained 27 percent of its 2000 population, with many residents buying into large subdivisions.

Waterford -- built by Patrick Development & Homes in the early 2000s -- features winding, Irish-named streets and massive homes, some costing more than $1 million.

Derek Moscati, 26, said his parents moved to the area looking to downsize after the growth of their children.

But the opportunity to make a new home "their own" drew them from their smaller East Amherst dwelling, he said. Soon after, the Marrano and Ryan homes started shooting up, creating a street of their own.

"[It's] a little bit [surprising], given the state of the economy," he said.

That didn't stop Colleen Eppig from settling down the street from Moscati. Eppig, a Lancaster native, moved to Ohio and later Pittsburgh, Pa., for graduate studies and her pharmaceutical career.

When Eppig persuaded her husband to move to Western New York, Clarence and Amherst were at the top her list because of the high-ranking school districts.

"It's probably the most important thing," Eppig said, "and we wanted a big [space] with room in the backyard."

Busy with her sons Tyler, 5, and Brayden, 3, and her one-year-old son , Eppig has barely had time to meet the neighbors who scooped up houses on her block.

"Three houses closed between November and Christmas," she said.

Drive two minutes away, and future growth is expected -- an empty traffic circle with four side streets sits empty, waiting for the next buyers.

Even with the population increases, the town's zoning, floodplain restrictions and Greenprint program ensure the town keeps its "rural and agricultural character," Supervisor Scott A. Bylewski said.

Bylewski said a previous zoning estimate showed the town's maximum build-out would be around 45,000 people.

Tract 146.04 is now 91 percent white, compared with 96 percent in 2000. Blacks account for 1.5 percent of the population, compared with less than 1 percent (six-tenths of one percent, to be exact) in 2000. Asians account for 6 percent of the population, compared with 2.6 percent in 2000.

-- Charlie Specht

>Cheektowaga: Town with biggest decline in Erie County

It was a desire for more space that sent George Zgliczynski packing from his neighborhood near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport to the southeastern corner of the town 20 years ago.

"I got a nice, big yard. It was a new development," Zgliczynski said. "Now it's starting to show its age."

The Jessica Lane neighborhood is part of a suburban census tract that has lost the most residents in the past decade: 777, according to data released last week.

The population of that tract, bordered by Losson, Transit and French roads, and Dartwood Drive, went from 6,111 in 2000 to 5,334 in 2010.

"There's people leaving every once in a while, but no huge turnover," Zgliczynski said.

One reason for departures is the inevitable death of residents, he noted.

"A lot of people are retired, too," said Zgliczynski, who's 62. "We are all moving on up in age."

Pointing to a nearby house, Zgliczynski said that neighbor, who had emigrated from Bulgaria, returned to his native country to live in retirement. And the young people are moving out of state, after graduation, for jobs, he added.

Jessica Lane is one of the newer streets in this particular census tract. Most of the houses went up in the mid-1980s and were built in the colonial style.

Market values exceed $125,000 for most of the properties, according to tax records.

There also are several duplexes at the eastern end of the street, which intersects with Transit Road.

Many other neighborhoods in this southeastern Cheektowaga tract were developed in the 1960s and '70s, in a variety of housing styles that include Cape Cod and ranch.

Overall, the tract is almost exclusively residential, with Dartwood Park at its western border. Commercial zones, featuring a variety of stores and services are along the northern, eastern and southern boundaries.

The population is 97 percent white.

-- Janice L. Habuda

>Tonawanda: Population drain for inner suburb

The Town of Tonawanda had a significant population drop over the past decade, going from 78,155 to 73,567. That's a 5.9 percent decrease.

And the area of this inner-ring suburb that suffered the most was census tract 84, the area that fans west of Military Road to the Niagara River and largely within the town's industrial corridor.

The population in this tract dropped by 10.2 percent -- or 272 people -- from 2,678 in 2000 to to 2,406 in 2010.

Elfie Mermigas, who was born in Greece, has lived on Desmond Drive since 1972. His two grown children live elsewhere in Erie County.

Friends and neighbors have died in recent years from illnesses that might be related to nearby industries, Mermigas said.

"The people that had young kids here that left didn't want to take any chances," he said.

The industrial presence never is far away.

"Sometimes the smell is unbelievable here," Mermigas said.

Still, Mermigas intends to stay in his 1959 ranch home, the style that dominates the street between Sheridan Drive and Riverview Boulevard. In contrast, several two-story colonials have been built within the past 10 years on the other side of Sheridan.

His reasons for staying include the convenience of the nearby Niagara Thruway and shopping. He also said he's impressed "by the unity we have as neighbors."

The population of the tract is 92 percent white, down from 94 percent. The black population has remained about the same, at slightly less than 4 percent.

The immediate area around Mermigas includes several other residential streets. But farther west is another neighborhood, running northeast off River Road, that's surrounded by industry.

Kaufman Avenue is the most residential in that area, featuring 1 1/2 -story frame homes dating back to the 1920s, and cottages and Cape Cods built in the 1950s.

At the southwest corner of the tract is the Old Town neighborhood, where ongoing revitalization efforts by the town have led to the acquisition and demolition of substandard housing to make way for new homes.

One out of 10 housing units in this tract is vacant, according to census data.

-- Janice L. Habuda

>Amherst: Boom town continues

An odd, hook-shaped census tract in Amherst showed a population explosion over the past decade, gaining 918 people since the last census -- a leap of 38 percent. The town's overall population growth was a more modest 5 percent, and now stands at 122,366 residents.

The reason for this tract's big gain is simple: students.

The tract runs just west of the University at Buffalo North Campus. Much to the chagrin of UB officials, this area has seen the development of two major, privately owned student housing complexes since 2005.

Those developments, owned and operated by American Campus Communities, account for more more than 1,300 student beds that didn't exist when the 2000 census was taken.

University Village at Sweet Home, opposite Sweet Home High School, was the first major private student housing development to challenge the university's on-campus housing setup in 2005.

The 10 four-story buildings can house roughly 830 students.

A short distance away on Chestnut Ridge Road stand the Villas at Chestnut Ridge, a townhome-design complex built in 2008. It accommodates about 550 students.

"Historically, UB was very isolated from the surrounding community," said Sean Hopkins, the local lawyer representing American Campus Communities. "Now you're seeing the community and the campus being more integrated."

A third housing complex planned by American Campus Communities for Rensch Road, located just off Sweet Home Road in the same census tract, would lead to the creation of hundreds more apartments.

UB, which has been expanding its own on-campus residential offerings for students, has sued the town and the developer to keep this latest complex from being built. But UB lost a State Supreme Court ruling in the case last year, as well as an Appellate Division ruling issued just last month.

The two existing private dorm and apartment developments account for not only this area's swelling population -- from 2,390 to 3,308 -- but its racial diversity. More Asians and African-Americans live here now, though the census tract is still 70 percent white.

-- Sandra Tan

>Niagara Falls: Biggest loss in Niagara County

Almost one out of every 10 people who lived in Niagara Falls in 2000 left in the ensuing decade, leaving the population barely above 50,000. That's about half of what the city had at its peak.

The biggest percentage loss was in tract 212, bounded by Pine Avenue, Seventh and 17th streets and the Robert Moses Parkway. Its population fell 22 percent, to 2,462. It is 54 percent white and 33 percent black.

Taran Lewis of Ferry Avenue has an explanation of why the population is falling so fast and far in the neighborhood.

"People don't care about what's going on here," Lewis said. "You see a lot of busted-up houses, and we're forced to call these our homes. We don't got it the way other people got it, so we gotta make the best out of what we got. That's why it's so hard, and that's why there's a lot of crime going on: because we're struggling."

There is some crime in the neighborhood, and numerous Neighborhood Watch posters in windows make that obvious.

"I don't participate in the nighttime activities, but it goes on everywhere," Lewis said.

Kelsey Jim, a mother of two children under age 3, said she moved from the Tuscarora Indian Reservation to the neighborhood.

"It's a pretty decent neighborhood. You don't have that much hectic going on. There have been, since we lived here, a couple of fights in the street. The cops were called, but we don't involve ourselves," she said.

Josh Carey, a Niagara University student who lives in the neighborhood, attributes the decline to lack of employment.

"There's not enough jobs and there's nothing to do around here, at least for the younger kids," Carey said. "The older people who live here, they keep their houses up, but the new families that move in don't really care."

Looking on the bright side, Dezmond Robinson said that rents in the big old houses are low.

"These are good apartments," Robinson said, pointing down 15th Street. "There's a lot of them [that are] real old. That one down there with the three different stories, that's kind of ruined."

-- Thomas J. Prohaska

>Wheatfield: Biggest growth tract in Niagara County

Ten years ago, much of northern Wheatfield was fields -- not necessarily wheat fields, but it was still farming.

Today, many of the fields, especially off Shawnee and Ward roads, are covered by large homes on large lots. That's why Wheatfield north of Niagara Falls Boulevard now has 9,876 residents, according to the 2010 census.

The population increase in the census tract 227.11 showed the biggest in Niagara County -- up 2,768 people.

Many of the residents in such subdivisions as Hidden Ridge Estates, which didn't exist in 2000, moved there from the Tonawandas or Amherst.

"We built the house because we liked the area and the location, but specifically because of the [Starpoint] school district," said Jan McFarren of Stone Ridge Road, who left North Tonawanda.

She also said property taxes and water and sewer charges are far lower in Wheatfield.

Cheryl Jaenecke left Amherst and the Sweet Home School District for Hidden Ridge Lane last May, because size matters.

"It was the lure of the larger lot, the lure of larger bedrooms, the lure of more bedrooms, and the school district," she said. "We had to get out of the old school district before my kids got into high school. There were a lot of drug issues there, and I know there's drug issues everywhere, but it hit close to home where we were."

Kathy Monaco left the City of Tonawanda and now lives in the oldest house on Hidden Ridge Lane -- almost nine years old -- with her mother, husband and three kids.

"We're real happy with the school district at Starpoint," she said. "They seem to be really on it. There's not a lot of tolerance for misbehavior."

Elizabeth Gold, a grandmother who's lived on Stone Ridge Road for six years, came from the Town of Tonawanda.

"It's a wonderful neighborhood. We have great families and everybody wants to help each other. There's a lot of grandmas in this area. We get together once a month or so and have coffee," she said.

She and several other grandmothers are living with their children and grandchildren in three-generation households, in an area that's 95 percent white.

And there's more to come. A placard at the end of Hidden Ridge shows where new home lots have been laid out. The limits of Wheatfield's residential growth have yet to be reached.

-- Thomas J. Prohaska

News Staff Reporter Mary B. Pasciak contributed to this report.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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