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Clarence, Lancaster, Elma set the pace for county population growth

Outer-ring suburbs in the northern and eastern sections of Erie County where new housing abounds grew faster than any other communities in Erie County over the last seven years.

Clarence, Lancaster and Elma all grew more than 4 percent between 2010 and 2017, with Clarence's population rising by 6 percent, according to the latest Census population estimates.

But 17 of the 22 towns and villages in Erie County that saw a population increase over that period were in the Southtowns.

And the 23 communities that shrank over the past seven years included a number of the county's villages, the cities of Tonawanda and Lackawanna and the inner-ring suburbs of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga. Alden's population fell by the sharpest rate – 7.5 percent.

"I've noticed many of my clients have sold their homes in Cheektowaga, Evans and Tonawanda because of the higher tax rates. Many of these clients bought their first homes in these towns but are no longer willing to pay the high taxes," said Melissa Colletti, a licensed real estate salesperson with Hunt Real Estate Corp.

Those are the highlights from the recent release by the Census Bureau of 2017 population estimates for every municipality here and across the country. The City of Buffalo showed a population loss since 2010 of 1 percent, or 2,700 people, to 258,612 last year. But the city gained 149 residents between 2016 and 2017.

Erie County as a whole saw its population tick up slightly over the seven-year period, by just under 1 percent or nearly 6,500 residents, to 925,528 last year.

The Census Bureau conducts a formal headcount of the population every 10 years, most recently in 2010. Each year in between, the Bureau estimates the populations of states, counties and municipalities by looking at births, deaths and movement of residents throughout those communities.

New housing is one indication of growth in a community, said Jan K. Vink, a researcher with Cornell University's Program on Applied Demographics. Most of the communities at the top of the Census growth list – Clarence, Grand Island, Lancaster, Elma and Amherst – have seen significant construction of new residential developments over the last seven years.

Clarence saw its population rise by 1,875 people, to an estimated 32,548. The only community with a larger raw increase in population was Amherst, which rose by 3,716 people, or 3 percent, to 126,082.

New building permit data backs up the Census estimates. Building permits issued in Clarence more than doubled between the first four months of 2017 and the first four months of this year, from 29 to 62, said John Manns, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Marrano Homes. The Town of Hamburg saw building permits rise 44 percent, while Orchard Park saw an 83 percent increase.

After Buffalo, the largest decline in raw numbers was in Cheektowaga, where the population fell by 1,208, or 1.3 percent, to 87,018. The Town of Tonawanda fell by 996 residents, or 1.3 percent, to 72,571.

Twelve villages saw population declines between 2010 and 2017, including Williamsville, Kenmore, Lancaster, Orchard Park and Sloan.

Cities and villages tend largely to be built out already, with little land that is readily available for large-scale housing developments, Vink said. Construction of new housing in those communities often is a replacement or rehabilitation of aging housing stock, which does not increase the population.

"Village taxes are always more, and you're not going to see growth there," Manns said.

Some of the population shifts are a result of people leaving Erie County or coming into Erie County from elsewhere. But a good portion are a result of migration within the county.

People move from cities and inner-ring suburbs to outer-ring suburbs such as Clarence and Lancaster because they are seeking larger houses or yards, lower taxes or better schools, Colletti said.

Grand Island has an additional appeal, she said. "Grand Island is great for people who enjoy life on the water and/or near the water. It's one of the only communities in WNY that you can own a dock with accessibility to the river. A quick drive down the 190 and you're downtown," Colletti said in an email.

Manns said the centrally located Town of Lancaster is one of Marrano's healthiest markets, and Colletti agreed.

"I specialize in new construction and many of my clients are drawn to the area because of the number of builders that can build a home in various price ranges," she said, citing the proximity to retail options on Transit Road and the strong school district.

The towns of Hamburg, Orchard Park, Aurora and West Seneca led a strong showing for the Southtowns. The 17 communities in southern Erie County that added population between 2010 and 2017 grew 2 percent overall, or 4,662 residents.

The outlier for the county was the Town of Alden, which saw its population fall by 800 residents, to 10,063. Its 7.5 percent decline over the seven years was the most by far for any community in Erie County, but that statistic comes with an asterisk.

Vink said Alden lost hundreds of people when the Erie County Home moved in 2013 from the town to the campus of Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo.

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