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Panhandle cities continue growth spurts

June 22, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD and DAVE McMILLION

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.Va. - The rate of population growth for Martinsburg, W.Va., appears to have spiked even more in the last year, according to the latest estimates released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Shenandoah Valley's "gateway city" gained 1,083 residents for the period from 2000-05 for an estimated total of 15,996. Martinsburg gained 361 residents in the last year, according to the Census report.

"I think you could add a little bit more than that," Mayor George Karos said of the total.

Martinsburg gained the second highest number of residents since the 2000 census, only trailing Morgantown's 1,617.

The fastest growing area of Martinsburg presently is west of Interstate 81, said Karos, noting new residents' interest in the city's proximity to metropolitan areas, the interstate and the region's attractive job market.

"This is almost heaven, West Virginia," Karos said.

The mayor also noted spurts of development that resulted from the construction of an I-81 exit that serves City Hospital and other areas of the northern part of Martinsburg.

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Martinsburg's gain appears to reaffirm a recent decision by the U.S. Postal Service to expand the number of ZIP codes available in and around the city.

In neighboring Jefferson County, both Charles Town, W.Va., and Ranson, W.Va., retained their standing as top five growth cities in West Virginia, with gains of 361 and 296, respectively, between 2004 and 2005. Combined, the population of the two border cities tops 8,000.

Ranson Mayor David Hamill said Wednesday he thinks Ranson eventually will surpass Charles Town in terms of population, and added that he thinks people will be attracted to Ranson because it has more to offer than any other community in the county.

Ranson has annexed thousands of acres in recent years, and the town has been preparing for new businesses and residents it is expected to see in coming years.

Large retail development is under way in the town, new council chambers have been built, the police department has been expanded and new equipment has been purchased for city workers.

A comprehensive plan for the town estimates that Ranson's population could rise to 18,000 as growth occurs in the newly annexed areas.

Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith said she believes Charles Town's growth will continue, although the rate is slowing down.

Charles Town only has issued about 10 building permits since the beginning of the year, Smith said.

With the slowing growth, Smith thinks it is a good time to focus on affordable housing for the city and push for homes that cost less than $200,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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