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PUTNAM'S POPULATION GROWTH COMING AT KANAWHA'S EXPENSE

If Kanawha County hadn't existed in 1999, Putnam County would not have

 

grown at all, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.

 

 

Except for about 400 Kanawha residents moving in, as many people left

 

Putnam County that year as came in.

 

 

Most of Putnam County's growth in the last several years has

 

come at the expense of Kanawha County. Between 1994 and 1999, more than 80

 

percent of Putnam County's population increase came from Kanawha, a

 

Gazette computer analysis of IRS migration data showed.

 

 

About 2,600 people made the short trip west on Interstate 64 to settle

 

in new subdivisions like Teays Valley Meadows North, where former Dunbar

 

residents Lewis and Judy Gandee live. Judy Gandee said that number doesn't

 

  • urprise her.
  •  

     

    "I've met a lot of friendly people since I moved out here," she

  • aid.
  •  

    "Most are from Kanawha County."

     

     

    Like a new car

     

     

    Lewis Gandee pushed his 6-year-old granddaughter in her backyard swing

     

    on a recent sunny winter afternoon. From his large, level yard, they can

     

  • ee three other swing sets, two wooden play forts with colorful tents and
  •  

    one trampoline. The muffled roar of I-64 sounds in the distance.

     

     

    The Gandees began to think about where they want to retire more than

     

    five years ago. Lewis worked as a sales representative, Judy as a teacher

     

    at Roxalana Elementary in Dunbar. They wanted a new house so they wouldn't

     

    have to worry about renovations or repairs.

     

     

    They drove around to new houses in other areas, but about

     

    three-quarters of the new houses were in Teays Valley. Some new houses in

     

    Kanawha County were surrounded by older houses, which concerned Lewis.

     

     

    "If we're buying a new house, we want to live in a new neighborhood

     

    where the houses all have comparable values," he

  • aid.
  •  

     

    The Gandees settled first in White Pines subdivision, next to the

     

    Winfield exit. After Judy's mother suffered a stroke and moved in with

     

    them, they found a house in Teays Valley Meadows North, with a downstairs

     

    bedroom for her mother.

     

     

    Their daughter, Leah Gabhart, her husband John and daughter Sarah soon

     

    followed the Gandees to Teays Valley. They were living in a Cross Lanes

     

    townhouse built into a steep hillside. They couldn't put a swing set for

     

    Sarah out back and Leah was afraid to let her ride a bike in the driveway.

     

     

    "We didn't consider anyplace else," Leah

  • aid.
  • "It's hard to get a big

     

    yard where the houses aren't on top of each other."

     

     

    The Gabharts can see cattle grazing from their home in Moorefield Place

     

  • ubdivision. Sarah and the many children in the neighborhood can wade in
  •  

    the creek or play on its sandy banks.

     

     

    Sarah likes being able to walk to the Dairy Queen nearby. Leah likes

     

    being so close to Sarah's school, Teays Valley Christian.

     

     

    Leah feels the neighborhood is safe from both traffic and crime, and

     

    crime statistics support her. Putnam County's crime rate is about half the

     

    rate as Kanawha County's, although both are low by national standards.

     

    According to the 1998 state Uniform Crime Report, Putnam County has a

     

    crime rate of 23 incidents for 1,000 people, compared to Kanawha County's

     

    rate of 52 per 1,000.

     

     

    Leah doesn't know if anything could have kept her from moving to Putnam

     

    County.

     

     

    "There aren't that many new subdivisions in Kanawha County," she

  • aid.
  •  

    "I like the newer neighborhoods. They have underground utilities, and

     

    they're laid out better."

     

     

    Lewis added, "It's like the appeal of a new car."

     

     

    First families

     

     

    Mike and Suzanne Reid are both "Dunbar kids." They grew up in Dunbar,

     

    went to Dunbar High School and lived there after they married in 1982.

     

    Mike works for AEP's John Amos Power Plant near Poca and his wife for

     

    Acordia in Charleston.

     

     

    Several years ago, the Reids remodeled their Midway Drive house. They

     

    didn't think they would ever move, Suzanne

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Two years ago, their son Nicholas turned 4. At the same time, Kanawha

     

    County school officials announced plans to close the Reid's neighborhood

     

  • chool, Roxalana Elementary, and send the students to a new consolidated
  •  

  • chool.
  •  

     

    Suzanne went to school at Roxalana and felt it was the best she could

     

    offer her son. The consolidated school was a wild card, something she

     

    didn't know about. She already mourned the loss of Dunbar's high school,

     

    which she still wished was open for her son.

     

     

    A relative who works at West Teays Elementary gave Suzanne glowing

     

    reports about that Putnam County

  • chool.
  • The only thing that worried her

     

    was its size - more than 700 students, larger than her high school had

     

    been.

     

     

    Knowing that Putnam County had top-notch schools made it easier for her

     

    to move there, she

  • aid.
  • Putnam County ranked third in the state's

     

    Stanford-9 test scores last year, while Kanawha ranked 14th out of 55

     

    counties.

     

     

    The Reids thought briefly about moving south of Charleston, in one of

     

    the new houses being built near Corridor G, but the traffic at Southridge

     

  • cared them off. Despite some congestion on Teays Valley Road, they
  •  

  • ettled on that area of Putnam County for their new home.
  •  

     

    They scouted back yards for bicycles, sandboxes and swing sets when

     

    they looked for their future neighborhood. They wanted a place with lots

     

    of kids.

     

     

    "I wanted a quiet, safe, dead-end street," Suzanne

  • aid.
  • "Somewhere for

     

    Nicolas to ride his bike or play kickball without cars zooming by."

     

     

    They bought a two-story house in Fox Run subdivision, near Teays Valley

     

    Road. The house has a modern, open layout with a family room, casual

     

    dining area and kitchen all connected. They got to choose some of the

     

    details of their new house, such as hardwood floors and gold-colored light

     

    fixtures.

     

     

    Moving to Teays Valley meant an extra half-hour drive to work for

     

    Suzanne. More than 57 percent of Putnam County workers commute to a

     

    different county for their job, the highest rate in the state. Kanawha

     

    County only sends 7 percent of its work force out of county.

     

     

    She has found it slightly perilous, having been rear-ended twice, once

     

    recently on I-64 on her way into Charleston. But she believes the commute

     

    is worth it.

     

     

    "We wanted to be the first family in our home," she

  • aid.
  • "Whatever

     

    memories we make here are our own."

     

     

    Cheap land

     

     

    Flat land, lower construction costs and good schools are drawing people

     

    out of Kanawha County and into Putnam, according to area developers and

     

    real estate agents. That trend may not last forever, they say, because

     

    eventually developable land will become scarce in Teays Valley

     

     

    Developer John Leslie remembers moving to Putnam from Webster County

     

    with his family in 1944. A traveler along Teays Valley Road back then

     

    would see only four houses on a drive from the Kanawha River to Hurricane.

     

     

    Leslie was one of the first subdivision builders in Putnam County, but

     

    had a hard time convincing families who worked in Charleston to move to

     

    Putnam County in the 1950s and 60s.

     

     

    "Land was cheap, which gave us an edge, but we had a terrible time

     

  • tarting out," Leslie
  • aid.
  • "It was hard to get people from places like

     

    St. Albans to move here before they built a bridge over the Kanawha

     

    River."

     

     

    St. Albans was the suburb of choice in the 1950s, Leslie said, for the

     

  • ame reason Putnam County is today: The city offered better land to build
  •  

    a better house at a better price.

     

     

    Today, many Kanawha County homebuilders have to build on the sides of

     

    hills because of the scarcity of flat, undeveloped land. That's more

     

    expensive, he said, and forces developers to focus on higher-priced

     

    housing to recoup their investment.

     

     

    Teays Valley had sewer problems in the 1970s, when the state issued a

     

    moratorium on building because of health concerns. When South Putnam

     

    Public Service District expanded modern water and sewer lines in the 1980s

     

    and '90s, the explosion was inevitable, Leslie

  • aid.
  •  

     

    "Kanawha County's hands were tied. There was nothing they could do," he

     

  • aid.
  •  

     

    Housing costs are a main force behind why people leave Kanawha County

     

    for Putnam County, said Ava Crum, a real estate agent and former Winfield

     

    teacher. "Most of the time, people who are moving from Kanawha County to

     

    here are moving into a more upscale home, or they are getting more home

     

    for their money."

     

     

    The IRS migration data supports what Crum says: People leaving Kanawha

     

    County for Putnam County have higher incomes than people going the other

     

    direction. The average income of people leaving Kanawha County for Putnam

     

    County between 1994 and 1999 was $26,448, more than $5,000 higher than

     

    people going in the other direction. Those taxpayers took about $57

     

    million in taxable income, spending power and taxes with them.

     

     

    Putnam County's growth appears to be slowing down in recent

     

    years. With less land to develop in Teays Valley, builders are raising the

     

    costs of the houses they build, Leslie

  • aid.
  • First-time homebuyers are

     

    having more trouble than ever finding an affordable house in the area

     

    while Putnam's price advantage against Kanawha County is slowly

     

    disappearing.

     

     

    Left behind

     

     

    Some of Putnam's population gain has come at the expense of its

     

    larger neighbor to the east. Between 1960 and 1999, Putnam County has

     

    doubled in population, from 24,000 to an estimated 52,000 people.

     

    Kanawha County has lost more than 50,000 people in that same time period.

     

     

    In one sense, the same number of people are merely spreading themselves

     

    out, a process some planners call urban sprawl. West Virginia ranks first

     

    in growth of sprawl in the nation, according to a recent study by

     

    the American Planning Association.

     

     

    The Charleston region is like other industrial metropolitan areas that

     

    continue to expand physically, even if the area's population stayed

     

    the same. A study by the Ohio Housing Research Network predicts more

     

    "sprawl without growth" in Cleveland and its suburbs in the next

     

    decade. By 2010, the number of total acres devoted to new businesses and

     

    homes in outlying counties is expected to increase by 30 percent, even

     

    though the area's total population is expected to decrease by three

     

    percent.

     

     

    The people who stay in Kanawha County will have to pay more for the

     

  • ame level of services as others leave for Putnam County, said Charleston
  •  

    Mayor Jay Goldman. With fewer people remaining, services will have to be

     

    cut or people will have to pay more to maintain current water, sewer,

     

    fire, police and garbage service.

     

     

    At the same time, Putnam County leaders struggle to provide services to

     

    their burgeoning population. For example, the library system in the

     

    county has some of the lowest funding per resident in the state, in part

     

    because of ever-increasing usage. Teachers push carts from room to room at

     

    Hurricane High School because of lack of classroom space.

     

     

    Some leaders have advocated sharing of services between cities and

     

    counties. The city of Nitro recently merged its 911 service with Kanawha

     

    County. Putnam and Kanawha officials have joined in an effort to expand

     

    bus service into Teays Valley.

     

     

    Other efforts to share services have been less successful. Goldman's

     

    push to form a city of 100,000 has been rebuffed by most other Kanawha

     

    County mayors. Putnam County commissioners have rejected efforts to merge

     

    their much-criticized ambulance service with Kanawha County.

     

     

    Some political leaders may have reservations about working across town

     

    and county lines, but people who move from Kanawha County to Putnam County

     

  • till keep their ties with their old communities. When the Gandees or
  •  

    Suzanne Reid describe the town they left behind - Dunbar - they do so with

     

    a lot of love and respect.

     

     

    Reid says she doesn't want to sound critical of Dunbar. It will always

     

    be home for her. She misses being able to drive down the street and

     

    recognize every face. But her neighbors in Teays Valley are friendly, too.

     

     

    The Gandees still go to church in St. Albans and to events in

     

    Charleston. They still have fond memories and friends in Dunbar, but

     

    they've made a new life for themselves in Teays Valley.

     

     

    "We still consider Dunbar home in our heart," Judy said, "although

     

    we're very comfortable here."

     

     

    Look for Part 3 of "Valley on the Move," which will examine the slowing

     

    of growth in Putnam, in Tuesday's Gazette.

     

     

    To contact staff writer Scott Finn, use e-mail or call 357-4323.

     

     


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