Officials in Kent, Ravenna contend census report flawed

By Diane Smith and Micah Panczyk Record-Courier st Published:

In both of Portage County's largest cities, the reports are the same. But new housing is being developed. People aren't fleeing the cities to live elsewhere.

"How could we continue to build as we have and lose population?" asked Ravenna Building Inspector Bob Miller. Though he spoke for Ravenna only, Miller expressed the sentiments of Kent officials as well, who contend that Kent's population has grown steadily since the 1990 survey.

According to figures issued in November by the U.S. Census Bureau, Kent's population declined from 28,835 to 27,072. Meanwhile, nearby Stow grew by 10 percent, with a population of 30,864. Stow had 27,998 residents in the 1990 census.

Ravenna's population reportedly slumped 2 percent, from 12,069 to 11,829. The population of Ravenna Township has grown by 7.6 percent, according to the report.While Miller contends Ravenna's figures are flawed, he agrees with the report that Aurora and Streetsboro are growing swiftly.

"I imagine that, in the next five years, these cities will exceed Ravenna and Kent in population," he said. "They're growing explosively."

Aurora's population has grown by 26 percent to 11,584 since 1990, according to the census report. In the same span, population has grown to nearly 11,000 residents in Streetsboro _ a reported 10 percent increase Mayor Sally Henzel contends is a profound underestimate. Much of the growth is the county's northern tier reflects an exodus from Cuyahoga County, according to Lynne Erickson, director of the Portage County Regional Planning Commission. Aurora and Streetsboro afford substantial greenspace and a reasonable commute for those who wish to work, but not live, in the Cleveland area, she said.

Kent officials blame the drop in population on the shifting population at Kent State University.

"If you factor out the fluctuating enrollment at Kent State University and factor in the new housing developments, you'll find Kent is experiencing a steady, healthy growth rate," City Manager Lewis Steinbrecher said.

Steinbrecher said the city's estimates show Kent's base population, or the city population excluding students on the KSU campus, has grown by about 1 percent each year.

"That's a very healthy, sustainable growth pattern," he said. "It doesn't place a lot of demands on existing infrastructure."

He maintains Kent is much better off than Aurora, which grew by 26 percent in the past six years, according to census figures.

"It's very healthy compared with the 26 percent growth Aurora had," Steinbrecher said. "When you have that kind of rapid growth, it places stress on the infrastructure and the school system."

The 1990 census figures broke down Kent's population and showed how many lived in group quarters, such as nursing homes, homeless shelters and college dormitories. The census showed there were 6,919 people living in those dormitories in 1990.

But since the 1990 census was taken, the number of students living in dormitories has fluctuated.

Doug Berger of the KSU department of residence services, said in March 1996, there were 4,704 students in residence halls. The figure includes students in the Allerton apartments, student staff and other students in residence halls.

Bill Mesaros of Kent's community development department said the March 1996 enrollment figures were probably the ones used by the census bureau to come up with its 1996 estimate, and reflect a 2,215 drop in on-campus students in Kent since 1990.

Berger said enrollment is an "ever changing number," which tends to drop as the academic year progresses. Spring enrollment is traditionally smaller than fall enrollment. Residence hall population is heavily dependent upon freshman enrollment, which tends to fluctuate based on the number of students graduating from high school in a given year.

Constance Foley, director of residence services at KSU, said enrollment peaked around 1990, but then suffered a sharp decline in the next few years, particularly in the freshman class.

In recent years, however, enrollment has picked up.

This fall, there were 5,455 students in KSU residence halls, a figure that has increased steadily over the past four years, said Charles Rickard, associate vice-president for enrollment services at KSU.

Foley said some reasons for the increased enrollment are efforts by KSU's admissions department, which sponsors "yield receptions" to spark interest in KSU. The receptions are held in large cities in Ohio and neighboring states, and perspective students are invited. KSU has also looked at increasing scholarships to draw students to the university.

Meanwhile, figures from Kent's building division show that between 1990 and 1997, there were 265 new single family homes, 30 duplexes and 232 multi-family units, Community Development Director Louis Zunguze said.

Kent has three newer housing developments, River Bend, Forest Lakes and Fieldstone, and all three developments are expanding.

"We have not seen a decline at all," Zunguze said. "We've seen a steady growth, and it gives us a good sense of where we're going. We can plan nicely."

Ravenna is witnessing the construction of three separate housing developments. More than 230 homes will speckle about 100 acres at Annevar Estates near the junction of Diamond and Lake streets, where utility-lines and new streets are under construction, Miller said.

The nearby Diamond Acres development has been approved for 30 homes, 12 of which are completed. In addition, Woodland Trails on Sapp Road has been approved for 83 homes, Miller said.

Since 1995, Ravenna has also seen the construction of Portage Terrace on Coe Road, which houses between 60 and 70 units, each occupied by three to four tenants. In addition, the Springtree Condominiums on Bryn Mawr Street will likely add another 80 residents and the Bryn Mawr Glen Apartments, a 50-apartment facility for elderly residents, opened in October.

"I don't know how these latest population estimates were derived, but I suspect they are flawed by false assumptions," Miller said. "Nobody consulted us for any data concerning the number of the building permits we've issued."

"We build at least 10 new houses every year on isolated lots throughout the city," Miller added. "It's like ringing a bell."

Erickson echoed Miller's rebuttal.

"I think they're barking up the wrong tree," she said, in reference to the report's conclusions. "Between 1990 and 1995, Ravenna added 301 dwelling units to its residential base. This would add some 840 people to Ravenna's residential base, lifting its total population to 12,900," she said.

Eighteen homes have been razed in Ravenna since 1990, but most of these were unoccupied. In addition, between 50 and 60 apartment units have been closed since 1991, Miller said.

Future growth in Ravenna will be limited by the city's size. Ravenna measures only 4.2 square miles, Miller said. But "nobody ever wanted to make a Cleveland out of Ravenna," he said. "Growth is obviously a catch-22. A city must manage growth to meet its demands for revenue without overextending its capacity. I think we're doing that in Ravenna."

Sylvia Chinn-Levy, an economic development planner with the Northeast Ohio Four County Regional Planning and Development Organization said so far, she has heard complaints from Kent and Hudson, where officials thought their population numbers were too low.

The department has indicated it would revisit the most recent census figures, noting there were some inconsistencies, she said. So far, however, the department has stated the inconsistencies dealt with things like townships being named incorrectly.

"I asked them if the gains and losses were also incorrect, but I haven't gotten an answer yet," she said.

NEFCO developed a set of population projections for the region for 1995 through 2020. Those projections predicted that Kent's population would grow to 29,959 by 1995, and Ravenna's population was expected to grow to 12,261. The projections also predicted slightly higher growth rates for Aurora and Streetsboro.

"The census figures seem low, especially when it comes to Kent," she said.

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