CRESTVIEW — An influx of neighbors arriving with military reassignments from North Carolina, Texas and Alaska has boosted the local population and propelled the city into the University of Florida’s top 100 growing cities in the state.
Though Crestview barely made it to the top 100 in 2010, when it ranked 100th, UF’s newly issued December report covering 2012 found the city had nudged its way up to 97th place. The city was ranked 109th in 2000.
The university’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, using U.S. government census reports, determined that Crestview has 22,742 residents — up from 2010’s 20,978 and a 42 percent leap from 2000’s 14,766 residents.
Mayor David Cadle primarily attributed the recent growth spurt to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) cantonment south of Crestview, which brought nearly 6,000 soldiers, support staff and their families to the area.
As the city diversifies its businesses, particularly at Bob Sikes Airport and through the city’s Enterprise Zone, more growth can be expected, Cadle said. This will translate into more and better job opportunities for residents, and an increased tax base for the community, he said.
“I’m very excited about the continued growth of Crestview and I think we’re going to see more of that to come as we expand our industrial base,” Cadle said.
The city’s growth far outpaced that of neighboring communities on the UF list. The nearest was Pensacola, which at 51 on the list saw a 7.7 percent population decline since 2000 and a .2 percent growth since 2010 to 52,022 residents.
Panama City, the next closest neighbor on the list, ranked 73rd, with a 2.5 percent population decline since 2000 and .8 percent increase between 2010 and 2012 to 35,800 people.
No other Okaloosa, Santa Rosa or Walton County communities made the top 100 list.
However, with the city’s growth come growing pains.
Most noticeably, the homebound evening commute from the county’s south end has increased in recent years. New growth clogs feeder roads including P.J. Adams Parkway and John King Road.
The city addressed infrastructure expansion in expectation of the Base Realignment and Closure-mandated arrival of the 7th Special Forces, including expanding water and sewer systems.
However, traffic problems remain an issue because the county or state controls the roads that most sorely need widening, officials say.
“The city’s growth creates opportunities but it also creates challenges, and I think we have to be careful not to pursue growth simply for growth’s sake,” County Commissioner Nathan Boyles, who represents the north county, said. “We want to make sure we are growing in a way that allows us to develop economically but also allows us to preserve our unique quality of life.
“One important component of that is infrastructure. If we grow so fast that we can’t maintain the necessary levels of service with our infrastructure, we won’t be a very good place to live and we won’t stay on that (UF) list very long.”
Boyles cited ongoing engineering planning projects — like P.J. Adams Parkway’s widening and creation of a P.J. Adams/Antioch Road bypass around Crestview’s southwest quadrant — as examples of county officials’ increased focus on the Crestview area.
“I think the job of equitably distributing the limited resources of the county is a challenging one,” Boyles said. “I think having two commissioners from the north end of the county for the first time will help assure our area will get its fair share of those resources.”
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.