By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MASON - While it's still booming, Ohio's fastest growing city is starting to see the signs of slower growth.
City and school officials estimate that about 15 percent of Mason is undeveloped, and only about half of that is slated for residential use.
And while the city of 25,656 people is expected to keep growing by about 800 to 1,000 people a year, officials predict that the growth will taper off by 2010. By then, the city's population would be about 35,000 to 40,000.
The Mason City School District, which also includes residents from neighboring areas, is expected to top off at 12,000 to 13,000 students.
"There is development that is yet to occur," says City Manager Scot Lahrmer. "But, if you look at the building permits for single-family development, for example, the numbers have gone down."
This year, the city has issued 146 single-family permits through June, down from the 203 permits it issued for the same period last year. During the same time period, 33 multi-family permits were issued, compared with 94 last year.
By 2010, officials expect the residential land that will remain undeveloped will be property that is not as easily built on because of topography and other such reasons.
"In a growing city like this, you don't necessarily stay on the same path, development-wise," Lahrmer said. "A different type of development takes over."
Residents are not likely to see the slowdown any time soon. Between 2000 and 2002, the city added 3,500 residents - a growth rate of 16.5 percent - making it Ohio's fastest growing city, according to the census population estimates released earlier this month.
There's more than 1,000 single-family lots and 863 multi-family lots that have been platted but not built, according to the city. And at 701 houses, Mason led the region in the number of homes sold last year.
In some parts of town, it looks like development keeps going.
Lou Moormeier and his wife of 52 years, Jan, moved from West Chester to their ranch home here three years ago. They, like many residents, were drawn to the quiet streets and the property that's nestled near 13 acres of woods.
"We like it very much here - the area is close to everything," said Moormeier, who lives on a cul-de-sac that backs into an open area.
"We were hoping they wouldn't build back there, but it looks like they might."
But despite the continued development, residents still pride themselves on maintaining the atmosphere of a sleepy suburb. They still have a quiet downtown area, a school system that's ranked among the state's best, bike and walking paths that connect the city, and several city services.
"It's a sizable jump," Lahrmer said about the population growth. "But it's also a city where we've been able to retain that small-town feel."
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