Fastest-growing city hits wall

EAGLE POINT — Jackson County's fastest-growing city over the past seven years is welcoming a slowdown in growth.

Estimates prepared by Portland State University show that Eagle Point's population has increased by 78.6 percent, to 8,565 residents, since the 2000 U.S. census.

That makes the Upper Rogue community the fourth largest city in Jackson County behind Medford, Ashland and Central Point.

Eagle Point's growth rate was more than double that of Central Point's second-place 36.3 percent over the same seven-year period.

After averaging more than 9 percent annual growth between 2000 and 2006, Eagle Point experienced a dramatic drop in growth this year — to 2.7 percent.

"Growth patterns are very cyclical," said City Administrator Dave Hussell. "We went through a very high growth period and now we're going through a downturn and a slowing of growth."

Hussell said he didn't consider the slowdown a negative.

"It's been good to catch up on a lot of things that needed to be caught up on over the past year," he said. "It lets us to do more long-term planning projects that allow us to prepare for what we believe will be another growth spurt sometime in the future."

Eagle Point Mayor Leon Sherman said he thought the surge in growth was handled "extremely well."

"We have our city staff to thank for that," he said. "During the heavy times, they just pulled themselves up by the boot straps and did what needed to be done."

Even though growth was strong, Planner Bunny Lincoln said the city managed to function without significantly increasing staff.

"The philosophy was for everyone to work a little harder to take care of business," she said.

"Dave Hussell's decision not to hire more staff in the heavy workload times was particularly prudent. Now that things have slowed down, we can all catch a deep breath, and best of all, we don't have to lay anybody off."

In 2004, Hussell and Lincoln had questioned the PSU estimates, saying they thoug ht the population figures were perhaps short by as many as 350 people.

"All Oregon cities receive a share of state revenues, such as cigarette tax, liquor tax and gas tax, all based on a per-capita formula," said Hussell. "The numbers mean a lot to smaller cities, so making these population assessments as accurate as possible has always been a big deal to us."

Oregon law requires the annual population estimates. PSU compiles the information each fiscal year.

This year Hussell said he doesn't dispute the lower growth figure.

"The fact is that our growth has been reduced quite a bit and so I think that it's probably a fair number," he said.

Lincoln said most of the city's growth is now in the commercial sector and that the opening of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in September is spurring interest in the area.

"A number of new businesses are interested in setting up in the city now," she said. "There are no formal applications as yet, so I can't mention their names, but there's fast food on the way and leasing opportunities in several different commercial complexes that are under construction or already built.

"We're high on everybody's radar for regional commercial business."

Last January, Jackson County adopted a new estimate of what Eagle Point's population will be in 20 years: 16,940.

Hussell said except for a few subdivisions that haven't been finished, the city is out of room and has reached the limits of its urban growth boundary.

"Looking ahead," he said, "certainly our biggest need is an expansion of the UGB and we're working on that process right now.

"As cities, we must accommodate growth if growth is going to occur. We don't necessarily create it."

"Most of the community understands that," said Lincoln, "and they are glad that we try to hold on to the semirural flavor of our community."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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