By Justin Faulconer
The population in Lynchburg and surrounding counties grew by about 3,180 residents combined since the 2010 Census, a recently released report from the Weldon Cooper Center in Charlottesville shows.
Every locality in the area except the city of Bedford experienced an upward population swing, according to figures.
The Hill City led the charge with an estimated 1,635 additional residents, a jump of 2.2 percent. The city, the most populated locality in Central Virginia, climbed past 77,000 residents.
City Planner Tom Martin attributed the increase in large part to the continuing growth at Liberty University. He said Virginia University of Lynchburg also is bringing residents into the area.
The city’s employment opportunities, variety of housing options and community amenities also are contributing factors, Mayor Mike Gillette said.
“I would say the fact we are seeing population growth is an indication Lynchburg is a desirable place to be,” Gillette said.
City Manager Kimball Payne said nationwide trends indicate that people are increasingly drawn to urban areas, possibly to avoid the cost of commuting or to take advantage of the greater array of amenities and entertainment.
“I think there is a lot to attract people to the city,” Payne said.
Area counties attracted more residents, too.
Bedford and Appomattox counties each grew 1.4 percent. Roughly 960 more people are calling Bedford County home since the last census, driving the population to nearly 70,000, while 212 new residents in Appomattox catapulted its total just past the 15,000 mark.
Frank Rogers, Bedford’s interim county administrator, said the recent growth rate is “manageable” and should not overstrain infrastructure and service needs.
“Growth is important to a community, but you want it at a sustainable level,” he said.
Low crime, a friendly atmosphere, scarce traffic and a rich historical feel are reasons that Paul Harvey, mayor of the town of Appomattox, feel people are attracted to the county.
But generating economic growth is just as important, he said, as jobs keep residents from leaving to find work elsewhere.
“I think that would help our population growth as much as anything because it would keep our young people here,” Harvey said.
Amherst County saw a 0.6 percent increase, or 179 residents, while Campbell County climbed by 188 residents, or 0.3 percent. Nelson County added 58 residents, a 0.4 percent increase.
The city of Bedford was the only area locality to see a decline in population since the 2010 census, dropping nearly 1 percent, ac-cording to recent figures. The city had 6,222 residents a few years back, but that total decreased by an estimated 50 residents.
The slight drop is not a surprise as the city’s population has hovered at 6,000 for many years, said City Manager Charles Kola-kowski.
Stagnant growth is one of the reasons the city is reverting back to a town this summer. Bedford’s land mass and residents will fold into the county when the city transitions to a town form of government on July 1.
The town of Bedford will grow by nearly two square miles upon reversion through a land boundary adjustment, taking in more residents that will surge the population by an anticipated several hundred.
Lynchburg’s continuing growth is among the factors officials are weighing as they plot new long-term visions for the city’s development. The city is in the early stages of updating its comprehensive plan and rewriting its zoning ordinance.
Gillette said one component the new ordinance needs is a better approach to encouraging redevelopment and infill development.
“One of our challenges as a growing city is we can’t expand our borders, so we’ve got to use every inch of space we have,” he said. “I am far happier having redevelopment on a brownfield (site) than bulldozing on a green space.”
Virginia added more than 184,000 residents since the last census, a 2.3 percent increase.