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Census shows suburbs drive county’s growth

Erie County’s population growth is coming from the suburbs.

While Buffalo’s numbers continue to shrink, Amherst and the second-ring suburbs accounted for much of the growth in Erie County between the start of the decade and last July, according to new estimates released by the Census Bureau this week.

During that period, the population increased 3.6 percent in Clarence, 2.7 percent in Lancaster, 2 percent in Amherst and 1.7 percent in Hamburg.

Some of that suburban growth is likely migration from the city – which has lost 2,600 people since the start of the decade – but overall Erie County saw a net gain of nearly 3,800 people to 922,835 in 2014, estimates show. Much of that had to do with an influx of people from other countries who moved to Erie County between 2010 and 2014 – more than making up for the number of county residents who decided to move out.

And while it may be a small gain – 0.4 percent – it’s the first time in decades the county has had any signs of real growth.

Amherst led the way with the addition of nearly 2,400 residents between the 2010 census and last year, bringing the population of Erie County’s largest town to 124,837. In fact, the increase of 796 Amherst residents between July 2013 and July 2014 was the fourth-largest gain among municipalities in the state, according to the Census Bureau.

“One thing we found in the past is those estimates tend to be on the low side for the town,” said Eric W. Gillert, Amherst planning director.

It’s not clear what specifically drove those increases in Amherst, but the town has seen a spike in new apartments over the past few years, including a large number for college students and senior citizens, Gillert said. Developers also have indicated that some of the higher-end apartments going up are attracting new hires from the University at Buffalo, Gillert said.

Much of the growth since 2010 is in the county’s second-ring suburbs. That includes Grand Island, up 360 people; Elma, up 403; Orchard Park, up 491; Hamburg, up 968; and Lancaster, up 1,144, estimates show.

In Clarence, the population went up by 1,096 residents between 2010 and 2014. That includes the nearly 600 who were added between July 2013 and July 2014.

“We’ve had steady growth,” said James B. Callahan, the town’s director of community development. “Our permits have leveled off – not like the huge numbers we were doing back in the ’90s or early 2000s.”

The town issued permits for 172 single-family homes in 2013 and 105 last year, Callahan said.

“Most of these new units are smaller – a lot of patio homes,” he said. “But I think what has happened is some of the older housing stock is being in-filled by families.”

Like Buffalo, the cities of Lackawanna and Tonawanda saw their populations go down by 1 percent since 2010. The first-ring suburbs of Cheektowaga and Town of Tonawanda saw losses of less than a half percent.

Meanwhile, in the outer-ring suburbs – towns like Eden and Boston – the population remained relatively flat, as a whole.