Although population growth in Harford County slowed during the past year, the number of permits issued for new residential construction hit its highest point in five years during 2013, a likely sign of more growth to come.
The county and its three municipalities issued 741 building permits during 2013, compared to 588 during 2012, 681 in 2011, 548 in 2010 and 587 for 2009, according to data from the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning.
County planning officials also expect the number of permits to increase to about 1,000 each year during the next 10 to 20 years. The volume will not be as high as it was during the housing boom of the early 2000s, however, when an average of 1,500 permits were issued each year.
Dan Rooney, comprehensive planner with the county department, said Tuesday he projects "a slower steady growth, not as much as we had historically but growing at a really steady rate."
Rooney stressed his projection is subject to change, given changes in the national and local economies.
"Every year I keep it the same or change it, depending on what's occurring in the growth in the county," he said.
Late last month, the Maryland Department of Planning released its analysis of population trends in Maryland between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, based on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Harford County's population is 249,215 as of July 1, 2013, according to data posted on the state planning department's website.
The population grew by 675 people from the same day in 2012, and it has increased by 4,389 people since the 2010 Census, according to the state analysis.
The 2012-2013 growth number is the lowest amount of growth since 2010-2011, when the population increased by 1,481 people; the county population grew by 1,859 people during the 2011-2012 period.
Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning, said the 675 figure is the "net" increase in population for Harford County over a year.
"It is a bit curious that the increase in the last year was substantially below what it was in the prior two years," he said.
Goldstein said Harford lost 518 people during 2012-2013 through "domestic migration," meaning residents left for another location anywhere in the United States.
The county also gained 338 people during the same period through "international migration," meaning they came to Harford County from foreign countries.
Harford County gained 825 people through domestic migration during 2011-2012; 324 during 2010-2011 and 245 during 2009-2010, according to the state's findings.
"What happens with net domestic migration is probably the biggest determination of how the population grows from year to year," Goldstein said.
The county also gained 380 people through international migration in 2011-2012; compared to 284 in 2010-2011 and 121 in 2009-2010.
Goldstein noted "you see some brakes being slammed" in domestic migration beginning during 2006-2007, as the housing boom slowed and the housing market began to collapse under the weight of bad subprime mortgages, he said.
During the years 2008-13, new housing construction in the county slowed to its lowest levels since the late 1970s and early 1980s.
More than 1,600 people moved out of Harford County between July 1, 2006 and July 1, 2008, according to the state's analysis.
Goldstein said more rural parts of the state such as the Eastern Shore experienced a similar growth pattern during the boom and crash years.
"When the recession hit, that migration was severely reduced or even shut down, so this pattern is not unique to Harford," he said.
Growth in a recession
Despite the 2007-2009 recession and the sluggish national recovery, Harford County has still attracted home builders, and the median household income has increased from $69,549 in 2006 to $76,645, according to the state's latest population analysis.
"We're growing steadily, but again, at a lower rate," Rooney, of the county planning department, said.
Also, while school enrollment countywide dropped by more than 1,200 students from 2007 to 2013, according to Harford County Public Schools data, development in selected areas of the county, such as greater Bel Air, has continued to where some schools were considered over capacity.
The county can curtail development in school districts where the student population exceeds 110 percent of a school's state-rated capacity, such as the Hickory Elementary School attendance area in recent years.
Development has been cleared for the Hickory Elementary district as of the fall of 2013, as the enrollment is at 105 percent of capacity for the current school year and is projected to decline below 100 percent of capacity by the 2016-2017 school year. Last year, the Hickory district was under moratorium for new subdivision approvals.
"All 33 elementary schools in Harford County currently meet established adequacy standards," county planning officials stated in an amendment to the county's 2012 Annual Growth Report.
The county's 18 middle and high schools also meet the "adequacy standards," according to the report, meaning they are within the 105 percent enrollment threshold.
Rooney said the BRAC process, which lasted from 2005 to 2011, brought about 8,000 new workers to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harford County's largest employer and one of the largest employers in the state.
He said other major commercial entities such as a Kohl's distribution center in the Edgewood area have also helped bolster job and population growth.
Rooney noted the other amenities in Harford County have kept people interested, including the "excellent" public school system, the proximity to Baltimore and the I-95 corridor, the opportunity to live in a rural or urban setting, as well as "relatively reasonable" housing prices.
"Compared to Baltimore County, I think we're still affordable," he said.