FIRESTONE — Anita Rapp moved to Firestone two years ago for predictable reasons: affordability and location.
Rapp, 26, attends college in Fort Collins, while her boyfriend is studying in Boulder. They wanted to buy a house about halfway between the two and settled in Firestone.
“We did look in Longmont, but we got a lot more house for our money here,” Rapp said.
She’s not the only one.
U.S. Census Bureau data released this week show that Firestone was Colorado’s fastest growing municipality between April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2004.
The town’s population increased 202 percent, to 5,756 last year from 1,908 people in 2000, according to the Census Bureau.
Frederick is third on the list, ballooning 145 percent in the four-year period, to 6,034 residents from 2,476.
In fact, tiny Weld County towns growing into small communities dominate the top 10. Severance, Milliken, Evans, Johnstown and Lochbuie joined Firestone and Frederick in the top seven. Erie was 10th with 60 percent growth, to 10,064 people in 2004 from 6,291 in 2000.
Census data released in April showed Weld County as a whole grew 20 percent in the past five years, second only to Douglas County, south of Denver, which grew 32 percent.
Affordability and location — Rapp’s two main reasons for moving to Firestone — likely are driving the growth, Weld County Commissioner Bill Jerke said.
“People want to live in small towns and they like the atmosphere of rural communities,” he said.
“Growth is definitely happening and I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone,” said Cathy Schulte, interim director of the Greeley/Weld Economic Development Action Partnership.
She said people in congested cities have discovered inexpensive homes, smaller communities and reasonable commutes east of Interstate 25.
Kimmi Shellaby lived in Longmont for a number of years before she and her husband, Chris, bought a house in Firestone last year, largely for resale reasons.
Knowing they will likely sell their home in five years, she said doing so would be easier in Firestone.
“We’ll make a better profit out here,” Shellaby said, and that made the move worthwhile, even if it did add 20 minutes to the commute into Boulder County from the Tri-Towns.
Rapp said her only concern about living in a newer community is that it takes time for services and commercial development to come.
“We could have more out here,” she said.
Providing services is the primary challenge Weld County faces right now, Jerke said, from jobs and shopping opportunities to good roads and police and fire protection.
He said such services need to develop alongside growth.
Bruce Nickerson, Firestone’s town planner, said that’s already happening in Firestone.
“The growth has become a positive ... because it’s provided funding for improvements and brought along the retail component,” he said.
Weld County Commissioner Mike Geile said Weld County and its municipalities must plan for water and sewer infrastructure improvements now, as well as update their comprehensive growth plans to maintain a small-town quality of life.
“It’s almost like the star out there that we are all heading for,” he said of the plans.
Meanwhile, Geile said, the county must continue to work to improve transportation corridors surrounding municipalities, as well as work better with neighboring jurisdictions to help plan for growth.
That’s because nobody is planning on the growth to end in Weld County any time soon. Some southwest Weld County municipalities anticipate more than doubling in size in the coming years. And another 17,000 homes are projected along I-25 in unincorporated southwest Weld County, where population estimates by the county top out at 240,000 people by mid-century, more than seven times the current regional population of approximately 32,000.
Douglas Crowl can be reached at 303-684-5253, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.