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Florida county sees country's fastest growth
State had most counties on Census' top 100 listThe Associated Press

Updated: 10:59 a.m. ET April 14, 2005PALM COAST, Fla. - Bob Aiken had mixed emotions when he learned that his home is in the fastest growing county in the United States.

The U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday are good for Aiken’s real estate business — but not necessarily good for his quality of life in Flagler County, on the Atlantic Coast about 60 miles south of Jacksonville.

“I hope it is managed properly,” said Aiken, 60. “This is a gigantic boom. In 1979, this was a ghost town.”

Flagler County grew by 10.1 percent from July 1, 2003, to July 1, 2004, adding 6,309 residents — the biggest percentage change in the country. Kendall County, Ill., near Chicago, was second with an 8.3 percent increase.

(The county with the highest numerical increase was Maricopa County, Ariz., which added 112,000 residents.)

Situated between spring break capital Daytona Beach and the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Flagler County’s population was 69,005 on July 1, 2004. That’s more than double the 2000 population of 32,732, according to the Census.

'People are moving in'
“The word is out and people are moving in,” said Dick Morris, executive director of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. He said the county’s laid-back lifestyle, weather and golf courses have made it a Mecca for sun-starved retirees from the North.

While county officials are gleeful about the ranking and believe it will bring more businesses and industry to the area, local citizens are more circumspect about the downside of growth: traffic, urban sprawl, inadequate number of good jobs and a school system bursting at the seams.

Stephen Marro, executive director of Enterprise Flagler, a public-private economic development group, doesn’t see any slowing of the boom, noting that the labor force has increased from 18,000 to 27,000 in the past 18 months.

Huge projects are on the horizon, including a $230 million golf course and resort, gated housing projects, condominiums and a new shopping mall. An elementary school and high school are being built and will open at full capacity, said Nick Sacia, deputy director of Enterprise Flagler.

But with growth comes the need for more infrastructure.

“The question is: Can we handle it?” Morris said.

Rose Vullo, 57, co-owner of The Hair Gallery, said she wants to see something done about the roads. “We need more traffic lights,” said Vullo, who moved from New Jersey to Flagler County 18 years ago.

'Trashed' talk
Mindy McHenry, 30, said a lack of quality jobs is a big problem. Many of her friends drive to work in Jacksonville, more than a 100-mile round trip per day.

“I wonder if we have a City Council that is prepared to deal with the fastest growing county,” she said. “I am worried about Palm Coast getting trashed.”

Florida led all states with 14 counties among the nation’s 100 fastest growing, according to the Census Bureau.

Other fast-growing counties were in the South or West. Loudoun, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., ranked third in growth with rate of 8.1 percent. Two South Dakota counties, Hanson and Lincoln near Sioux Falls, were fourth and fifth fastest growing at 7.9 and 7.5 percent respectively, the Census Bureau reported.

Los Angles was again the most populous county with 9.9 million residents.

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Most of that sprawling development in St. Johns (number 9 on the list) is on the outskirts of St. Augustine, near the Duval County border and along the coast, from Jax down to Daytona. Flagler's Palm Coast pretty much sprawls unto itself.

I think a potential commuter rail system running on FEC's tracks connecting this area to downtown St. Augustine and downtown Jax, should be seriously considered before paving over the landscape.

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I got friends in Palm Coast who are real estate brokers. They've been telling me about an innordinate amount of closings the past 5 years and increased real estate prices there... lots that went for $5,000 in 2000 are now worth 12 times that amount.
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