Housing spurt slows but goes on
The surge hasn't led to more business for downtown shops.
By BOB JACKSON
COLUMBIANA -- After several years of watching Columbiana's population grow by leaps and bounds, city Manager Keith Chamberlin thought the growth spurt had finally slowed to a hop in 2006.
Turns out it was not far off the leaps-and-bounds pace after all.
The number of permits issued by the zoning office for new housing construction declined only slightly, from 88 in 2005 to about 75 in 2006.
"It's slowed down a little," Chamberlin said. "I was surprised that the numbers were as high as they were at the end of the year. I honestly thought it had slowed even more."
One the primary reasons for the steadily rising population numbers in Columbiana is the number of housing developments that have popped up around the city. The largest of them is The Links at Firestone Farms, an upscale community along state Route 14 that wraps around an 18-hole golf course.
How it's changed
Chamberlin said the Firestone Farms development is a perfect illustration of the growth that has happened in the city. He said that in 2004, just two homes were under construction there.
But Debbie Skorich, site coordinator at Firestone Farms, said 80 homes have been built, with seven more under construction.
"Knock on wood, we haven't seen any slowdown here at Firestone," Skorich said.
Joyce Ward, executive secretary of the Columbiana Chamber of Commerce, said the Cimmaron housing development on the city's south side and the Old Saybrook development on the north side also have sprung up in recent years.
"We are bursting at the seams," Ward said.
But she said the gain in population hasn't translated to more cha-ching at the cash registers in the city's downtown shops and businesses. That's because most people who build and live in the upscale development homes generally don't shop downtown, she said.
"It seems like they have no idea where the downtown area is, and that is a problem," Ward said. "We have become a bedroom community. People live here and sleep here, but they shop somewhere else."
Ward said the downtown Retail Merchants Association, which had been dormant for several years, has regrouped and is developing strategies for promoting the downtown district.
"Growth hasn't happened the way that we hoped it would for our downtown businesses," Ward said. "We're going to work very hard to change that."
Who's moving there
Chamberlin said a small number of the people who've moved into the housing developments are longtime city dwellers who have grown older and no longer want to be burdened with housing maintenance and upkeep, so they sell their house and move into a condominium.
But most of the people who are building houses in the development areas are coming from places such as Youngstown, Pittsburgh, Akron and Cleveland, he said. They choose to live here for the small-town lifestyle while keeping a manageable commute to their jobs in the bigger cities.
"I think our location is the biggest thing that attracts people here to us," Chamberlin said. "It's a good location for a lot of people."
The city's Web site says Columbiana is "conveniently located "17 miles from Youngstown, 78 miles from Cleveland, 58 miles from Pittsburgh and 55 miles from Akron.
"It still has that small-town feeling, but we have a lot of business and industry here, too," Chamberlin said, noting that the city offers commercial areas, an industrial park and manufacturing businesses.
And the city's school district consistently ranks as one of the best in the area, which is a draw for families with school-aged children who are looking for a new town to call home, he said.
Chamberlin said city leaders are bracing and planning for continued growth over the next several years. He said pains have been taken to keep growth from getting out of hand, as has happened in some neighboring communities.
Meeting didn't happen
About 18 months ago, former city councilman Don Leonard called for a meeting of Columbiana's governing bodies to develop a long-range plan to ensure orderly, controlled growth. He said such a comprehensive plan hadn't been developed in the city since 1972.
Chamberlin said the meeting never happened, and he's not convinced that one is needed.
He said the city's water and sewer systems are state-of-the-art and capable of handling growth over the next 20 years. The growing population also has not strained the city's safety forces, he said.
"It hasn't been haphazard, what's happened here," Chamberlin said. "We're trying to keep it under control."