Population Growth Slowing in Southern Ocean County



Longtime Southern Ocean County residents have seen the region’s population explode over the past five decades. But is the area’s population growth slowing?
That’s an especially important question for the residents of Eagleswood, Tuckerton, Little Egg Harbor and Burlington County’s Bass River Township. There is currently a proposal being considered to combine the PK-6 school districts of those municipalities with the 7-12 Pinelands Regional School District to create a new and quite large PK-12 district. Continued growth – or lack of growth – could have a significant impact on such consolidation one way or the other.
A lengthy section of a feasibility study’s report, which came out in strong support of such a consolidation, dealt with the area’s demographics. The report’s population numbers, based on U.S. Census Bureau figures, showed significant growth in all three towns over the past 50 years.
Eagleswood had a population of 823 residents in 1970. It went up to 1,009 in 1980, a 22.6% gain, and then up to 1,476 by 1990, a 46.3% jump. Things slowed down after that, with the population actually shrinking to 1,441 in the 2000 Census, a drop of 2.4%. In 2010 the number had reached 1,603 after a decade-long increase of 11.2%. The latest Census Bureau estimate of Eagleswood’s 2020 population has it as 1,613, meaning it increased by only 10 souls in 10 years.
Tuckerton’s population in 1970 was 1,926. It increased to 2,472 by 1980, a 28.3% increase; 3,048, representing a 23.3% in 1990; and 3,517 in 2000, up 15.4%. But it fell to 3,347 in 2010, a drop of 4.8%, and went up to only 3,426 in 2020.
Bass River’s population in 1970 was 815. It leaped 64.9% by 1980 when it had 1,344 residents and by 17.6% by 1990 when the Census reported 1,580 people. But then Bass River hit a population wall, with its population falling to 1,510 in 2000, 1,443 in 2010 and 1,417 in 2020.
Little Egg Harbor, like the above communities, witnessed stunning growth in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1970 just 2,972 people called LEH home, although it must be noted that was a 250.9% increase over the 847 residents in 1960. Come 1980 that number had shot up to 8,483, a boomtown-worthy 185.4% change. By 1990 the town’s population had reached 13,333, a 57.2% jump.
Things slowed down in 2000, when the number was 15,945, but that was still a 19.6% growth rate. And by 2010 the population of LEH had reached 20,065, up 25.8% from 2000. The growth continues, considering the Census Bureau said it had 22,007 residents in 2020. The increase from 2010 to 2020 was 9.68%, if not explosive, certainly still healthy, especially considering the area had to deal with Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
So, the question moving forward is what will the area’s growth be like in the future? Will it continue to slow down? Could another population burst be in store, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic side effects of city dwellers moving to the country and the possibility of many people working remotely and thus avoiding long commutes? Finally, how will growth affect the area’s schools?
Population Estimate
May Be Flawed
Predicting the future can be an iffy proposition. The reason is the “ifs,” all the variables. If A happens, it can be predicted that B will happen, but not necessarily if a C and D and E are mixed into the equation.
Much of Ocean County’s population spurt over the decades was caused by folks from northern New Jersey moving to this area to find less expensive housing options and lower property taxes, and to avoid congestion. They were plenty of retirees who were downsizing, but there was also an influx of young families who were just getting started.
But what if such people decide to go whole hog and move to a state with much lower taxes, such as Florida or Texas? What if another Sandy were to hit the area? What if there is a recession?
The only estimate of future population growth in Eagleswood, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor cited in the feasibility study report was prepared by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority in 2013. It called for growth galore. The NJTPA estimated Eagleswood will have a population of 3,079 in 2030 and 4,476 in 2040. But Richard S. Grip, the author of the demographic section of the feasibility study report, quickly dismissed that estimate.
“While the population projections prepared by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Inc. (‘NJTPA’) are forecasting a substantial population increase, the 2019 Census estimate (1,603) reflects stabilization in the population. The NJTPA likely needs to revise its projections after the 2020 Census results become available. As it currently stands, forecasts project the population to be 4,476 in 2040 which would be a 179.2% increase from the 2019 population estimate and a gain of 2,873 persons.”
Grip, who earned a doctorate from Rutgers in educational statistics and measurement and has 23 years of experience as a demographic consultant, seems to have had a grip on the situation in Eagleswood. The NJTPA had estimated Eagleswood would have a population of 2,125 in 2020. Remember, the Census Bureau said that town’s 2020 population was only 1,613. Not exactly a bullseye of a prediction.
The 2013 NJTPA report also projected decent growth in Tuckerton, calling for a 2040 population of 4,837, and said Little Egg Harbor would have 30,934 residents by 2040. But once again the NJTPA estimates for 2020 were off. It had called for a Tuckerton population of 3,564 that year, but that overshot the actual 2020 population of 3,246 by 318 people. As for LEH, the NJTPA estimated that town would have 23,085 residents in 2020 when the actual number was 22,007 according to the Census Bureau. The projection missed the mark by 1,078 individuals.
Bass River’s 2020 population projection, made by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission in 2012, proved much more accurate. It had called for the Burlington County township to have 1,446 residents in 2020. The actual number was 1,417, so the projection overshot by just 29 residents.
Of course, the DVRPC was dealing with smaller numbers in Bass River than the NJTPA did with Eagleswood, Tuckerton and LEH. And there’s an extra factor that must be heeded. As Grip wrote, “Future construction is limited as Bass River is one of 56 municipalities in southern New Jersey that have land contained within the Pinelands National Reserve, which is a protected natural area.”
So it isn’t surprising that the DVRPC predicted that Bass River Township will have only 1,455 residents in 2030 and 1,457 in 2040.
Not Many Homes
On the Horizon
Of course, people moving to the area will need homes. And Grip’s analysis shows few new homes on the horizon.
In Eagleswood, only 21 detached single-family homes are currently in the pipeline. Six need to be approved by the Eagleswood Land Use Board; 15 were approved way back in 2007 but are still not under construction, which makes you wonder if they ever will be built.
Carol Sceurman, the Tuckerton Borough Land Use Board secretary, told Grip the only new housing project in Tuckerton is the 27-single-family-home Yellowbrook development, located off Wood Street. When the report was made, it was described as “nearly completed” and may already be completed now.
Little Egg Harbor currently has just one housing project under construction, with 23 single-family homes off Route 9.
Bass River Township has no residential developments under construction, and there are no residential subdivisions before the planning board.
In conclusion, only 44 single-family homes and zero apartment complexes are in the works or planned in the area served by the Pinelands Regional School District. So it would appear there will not be, indeed could not be, a large infusion of new residents in the very near future.
Yet that would be a major contradiction to the historical growth of the area over the past half century. Has the north-to-south flow of people in New Jersey been reduced to a trickle?
There is another set of population projections that Grip didn’t consider, one prepared by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development and released about the same time as the NJTPA and DVRPC sets. It is understandable that Grip didn’t refer to the NJDLWD report because it didn’t go down to the municipal level. But it did project populations for New Jersey’s counties for the years 2014, 2019, 2024, 2029 and 2034.
Starting with a base of the 2010 Census, it projected Ocean County population of 586,300 in 2014, 600,300 in 2019, 624,200 in 2024, 644,100 in 2029 and 655,700 in 2034. The county’s actual population as per the Bureau of the Census was 584,447 in 2014 and 607,186 in 2019. So the NJDLWD projections for those two years were fairly close and, if anything, rather conservative.
It would take far too much speculation to translate those county figures to Eagleswood, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor. But the NJDLWD projection is calling for steady if unspectacular growth. So perhaps the stream of transplants from North Jersey to Southern Ocean County will be reduced to something more like a brook than a mere trickle.
As for the housing situation, a couple of variables weren’t included in Grip’s report. When it came to potential new housing, Grip wrote that “new houses to be built on single in-fill lots, or the subdivision of existing lots” were excluded from his analysis. And there was no tally of the number of existing lots and acres in each town that could be developed.
In conclusion, let’s answer the question “Is the area’s population growth slowing?” It would appear so. That doesn’t mean, however, that growth will come to a sudden halt. The area is built up but likely not built out.
The next article in this series won’t come out until 2022 as The SandPaper will go on hiatus over the holidays. When it does, it will look at another set of projections made by Grip – enrollments through the 2029-30 school year in the schools of each municipality in the consolidation area.
Rick Mellerup
rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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