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MIAMI-Census Bureau estimates for Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, though based on year-old estimates and soon to be updated by actual nose-count figures from the 2000 Census, point to a slowdown in the region’s population growth.

Does that mean the two counties won’t soon run out of developable land? Probably not, according to the South Florida Regional Planning Council. Most large tracts in western sections of Miami-Dade and Broward are gone, planners say.

The Census Bureau reports the population in metro Miami-Fort Lauderdale reached 3.71 million last year: 2.18 million in Miami-Dade and 1.54 million in Broward. But Broward’s growth rate since 1990 of 22% nearly doubled Miami-Dade’s 12%. The combined two-county nine-year growth rate was 16%.

Based on the latest data, Miami-Dade planners now believe the county’s population won’t exceed 2.7 million by 2015. They previously projected three million. However, there are those who argue that basing future planning on the lower number could lead to more congestion if these figures prove to be too conservative.

County officials respond that population projections have now been lowered because of changing trends in immigration and domestic migration. Earlier projections were adopted in 1994, shortly after an agreement to allow 20,000 Cubans to immigrate annually. As it turned out, 15,000 or less have come each year.

At the same time, many of the immigrants have not settled in Miami-Dade. Although Hispanics are now the majority in the county, their number has grown in Broward by more than 75% since 1990.

Much of the two counties’ growth can be traced to a handful of booming communities that are filling up fast. In western Broward, the population of Pembroke Pines nearly doubled between 1990 and 1999 to 121,279, while Coral Springs’ population rose by almost 50% to 116,136. Both are now among the country’s ten fastest growing cities with populations of 100,000 or more.

Some demographers suggest that metro Miami-Fort Lauderdale’s sprawl may actually be helping put the lid on population growth. More retirees from the North are now said to be opting for less congested Palm Beach County or the Gulf Coast.

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