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Fort Worth population tops 700,000

Call it a move back to normal growth.

After years of astronomical single-family home-building north of Loop 820, Fort Worth’s population has now reached 702,850, according to new estimates released Thursday by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

It’s a milestone — Fort Worth’s population exceeded 700,000 for the first time — but it’s tempered by indications that some locals are shifting away from buying new homes in outlying neighborhoods and toward apartment rentals in neighboring Dallas.

After six consecutive years as the region’s growth leader, Fort Worth added 16,000 residents — 3,850 fewer than Dallas. With more apartments available and a more mature urban transit core, Dallas added 19,850 new residents.

Last year, Fort Worth added 22,750 residents, compared with 7,650 in Dallas.

It’s not the real estate equivalent of doomsday in the ‘burbs yet. Still, outlying North Texas cities are not growing as they did a decade ago, said Duane Dankesreiter, manager of research for the council of governments.

“That’s really the story — things have slowed down, but not below what we would expect,” Dankesreiter said. “With the housing market and builders slowing their construction, that changes some of the numbers. In the city of Fort Worth, there were a lot of units built over the last year and some of them were vacant.”

After years of hyper-growth, experts called it a return to a “more normal rate” in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Also, with economic factors being what they are, homes closer to jobs in Dallas are more attractive than ever.

What should be surprising, said Bernard Weinstein, director of the Institute of Applied Economics at the University of North Texas, is that the smaller Fort Worth outgrew Dallas for as long as it did. (Percentage-wise, Fort Worth’s 2.33 percent growth is still larger than Dallas, at 1.55 percent, and is the highest among big cities in the region.)

“That was partly because Fort Worth has done a lot of annexation and Dallas hasn’t,” Weinstein said. In particular, annexations to the north allowed Fort Worth to direct its residential growth during a period of increased building.

That the rate is coming down now is merely a function of the large inventory of homes in the area and the national economic slowdown.

“Remember, one year or one month doesn’t constitute a trend,” Weinstein said. “I think the growth prospects for the region are as positive as they’ve ever been.”

However, both Dankesreiter and Weinstein said it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see that next year’s population growth largely mirrors this year’s more modest gains.

“I can’t see it changing too much,” Dankesreiter said.

Population estimates for the region: