Sunday, March 25, 2001

Welcome to the exurbs

Farther-out rural areas attract new residents

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Adrian Shaw's after-school job was to read every gas meter in the Village of Mount Orab. The chore took just one afternoon and netted young Adrian and his buddy $6 each - enough to buy burgers and fries for the rest of the month.

        Easy cash, Mr. Shaw now recalls, considering the town numbered just a few hundred people.

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        Today the Mount Orab zoning administrator sees a much different community. Brown County is being swallowed by growth as Hamilton and Clermont residents move east in pursuit of a simpler life.

        “It's a different place now,” says Mr. Shaw, a former Mount Orab city councilman. “People are coming here because they want to get out of the big cities.”

        Thousands of people in Cincinnati and its suburbs are spreading out to the rural fringes of the region. They're moving past the trendy suburbs of Warren and Boone counties to settle in rural communities in Brown, Clinton and Highland counties in Southwest Ohio, and Gallatin and Grant counties in Northern Kentucky.

        Ohio and Kentucky have followed this national trend of people moving even beyond the suburbs into largely rural areas known as exurbs. Newly released census figures confirm the rapid growth of counties on the outskirts of Ohio's cities from Cleveland to Columbus.

        People are willing to trade a longer commute for a bigger home and better school in a smaller community. Yet they're still close to jobs, cultural events, shopping centers and other attractions of the city.

        “Between Eastgate and Maysville, I guess this is the place to be right now,” said Cindy Jamison, who recently moved into her new Longview home in Brown County, Ohio's sixth-fastest-growing county. “There's so much space to be developed.”

        Another factor triggering the migration: these urban escapees want to live in an area with fewer restrictions.

[photo] Cindy Jamison, 27, and daughters Stephanie, 5, and Summer, 7 months, enjoy the view from their new home in Brown County. Behind them are recently built homes on Mapleridge Drive.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        “They don't want anything to do with zoning,” said Don Cierley, Sterling Township trustee. “Nobody is going to tell them what they can or can't do.”

Planners not worried
        If regional planners are concerned about the unchecked growth of these largely rural areas, they haven't made it known.

        The Cincinnati area's chief transportation planning group, the Ohio-Kentucky—Indiana Council of Governments, doesn't track the communities abutting its eight-county jurisdiction.

        The federal government requires counties to have a minimum population of 50,000 to be part of OKI, and these counties, although growing fast, haven't reached that threshold. And many of these rural communities lack even basic growth restrictions such as zoning laws.

        Myron Orfield, an urban planning expert who has studied the sprawling growth of Cincinnati and the nation's other top 25 metropolitan areas, said these exurbs thrive largely because there are no master plans to rein in growth.

        If unchecked, the exurban growth can create deep inequities by chipping away at the urban region's tax base while the booming areas struggle to pay for costly infrastructure like sewers and roads.

        “It takes a lot of people realizing that maybe they should work together on things,” said Mr. Orfield, a Minnesota state legislator. “Without formal planning, they'll get a lot of traffic and a lot of failing septic tanks. After a while it will be a lot different place than people thought they were moving to.”

Paving the way
        The spark for these rapidly-growing communities has been new roads and highways leading from city to farmland.

        Brown County had only slow, steady growth until Ohio 32 was finished in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the county's population jumped 20.9 percent even though its core farming industry struggled, because people found an easy commute to jobs in Milford, Eastgate and Cincinnati.

        “The Appalachian Highway (Ohio 32) has done a lot,” said Mike Miller, Brown County's economic development director. “We are seeing a lot of new housing developments. These people don't mind commuting into the city.”

        Similarly, Interstate 71 helped spur Gallatin's 45.9 percent spurt over the last decade and Interstate 75 gives Grant County a link to Cincinnati.

        Grant County Judge-executive Darrell Link said his county's 42.2 percent jump in the 1990s - the third-fastest rate in Kentucky - was spurred by its proximity to the expressway, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and Cincinnati.

        “People have found that they would prefer to commute 12 to 15 miles to work and enjoy quality of life factors,” Mr. Link said.

One town's boom
        Thirteen years ago, Mr. Link moved from the Grant County seat of Williamstown to Crittenden to be closer to his full-time job in Cincinnati.

        Because of people like him, the little town of Crittenden saw its population zoom 229 percent in the past decade.

        “Within 10 years, Crittenden went from a sleepy little town of just over 700 to a city of about 2,400,” Mr. Link said. “I think there's a reason for that. We're close to the airport and work locations and all the other things that the Cincinnati area has to offer. And I can get to the Florence Mall in 16 minutes.”

        Paul Hillenmeyer, who moved his family of four from Fort Wright to Grant County in the fall of 1996, agreed.

        Six and a half years ago, the 35-year-old Maysville native found work at a Grant County bank, and rediscovered the lure of living in an area with a slower-paced lifestyle.

        “I can drive to work and be at my desk in the same time it used to take me to find a parking place downtown,” Mr. Hillenmeyer said. “It's much less hectic on a day-to-day basis.”

Services strained
        Yet the rapid growth of these communities hasn't been embraced by everyone.

        Brown County's Pike Township, which ballooned 29 percent over the decade, has added paid firefighters and emergency medical workers to its all-volunteer staff. There were too many calls for the volunteers to keep up with.

        “It puts a strain on us,” Mr. Cierley said. “The tax base is just not here.”

        Mr. Miller said the county has enjoyed little direct economic benefit from the newcomers because most work outside the county. But the population boom has also attracted retailers and restaurants to western Brown County.

        Kroger opened its first store in Mount Orab last fall, an ambitious megastore at Ohio 68 and Ohio 32 that draws shoppers from Clinton County to the north and Highland County to the northeast.

        The family that owned a grocery in town closed it when Kroger opened and replaced the grocery with a food court for fast-food chains.

Schools an attraction
        “I think longtime residents are happy with the retail growth,” said Mount Orab Mayor Bruce Lunsford. “They may not necessarily like all the people that come with it, but I haven't heard any complaints.”

        The mix of country and close-in urban areas isn't the only thing bringing families to Mount Orab, Mr. Lunsford said. The school district is undergoing a building boom with more than $50 million in projects, including a new high school, an expanded elementary school and a renovated middle school.

        Daniel Rose, a Realtor with Len Koogler Realtors in Brown County, said his typical customer is someone who becomes frustrated with the suburbanization of once-rural areas like Milford.

        “Our customers come from Anderson Township or Milford,” Mr. Rose said. “Those areas have grown so much and they don't like it.”

        Rosemary Gliem, director of the Ohio State Data Center, said she's tracked similar growth patterns around Columbus and Cleveland. Medina County, for example, just south of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County on Interstate 71, grew 23.5 percent.

        Ms. Gliem said many planners have paid so much attention to obvious growth areas like Warren County and Delaware County - Ohio's well-publicized No. 2 and 1 growth counties - that they overlooked the burgeoning rural counties like Brown.

        “Brown was the county I have my eye on,” Ms. Gliem said. "People were talking about Warren, Delaware and Clermont. Those are the obvious ones.”

        Staff writers Kristina Goetz and Cindy Schroeder contributed to this report.


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