More people are moving to small city

Hephzibah city leaders have a simple explanation for last year's population growth spurt: They built it, and they came.

"It is the (housing) availability and the fact that lots have a little more room on them," said Martha Allen, Hephzibah's city clerk.

Hephzibah gained 107 people from July 2006 to July 2007, and fellow small town Blythe added three, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released last week.

Those were apparently the only gains Richmond County had last year. Consolidated Augusta-Richmond County lost 79 residents -- making for a slim net increase of 31.

In Hephzibah, the key to growth has been new neighborhood developments that don't detract from small-town living. The 4,434 residents of Hephzibah don't pay city taxes, another factor local officials said is contributing to population growth.

"I think people are trying to get out of the hustle-and-bustle and get into a quieter place," Mrs. Allen said.

Subdivisions built in the Storey Mill Road area and off Farmers Bridge Road, such as Spread Oak Plantation and Oak Ridge Plantation, are attracting home buyers who are new to Hephzibah, residents and city officials said.

Four years ago, Walter Barton said he heard rumors that someone planned to buy an 80-acre tract off Storey Mill Road and turn it into a mobile home park. Wanting something better for his hometown, Mr. Barton stepped in and purchased the land from International Paper Co.

He then developed a new neighborhood in Hephzibah, New Hope Estates. It has 66 lots averaging one acre each and 14 finished houses, Mr. Barton said.

"What people like is the privacy and quietness of the road," Mr. Barton said.

New Hope, which backs up to an old logging road, has attracted retirees, Fort Gordon personnel and professionals, he said.

Angela Malone and her husband, Mark, moved to New Hope two weeks ago. Mrs. Malone's family outgrew their south Augusta home and liked the smaller neighborhood they found in Hephzibah.

"We came from a very large subdivision, and we wanted to move to a smaller place with less people," she said.

With more people comes more demand on city services.

"Call volumes for fire are up, water usage is up, and there is more traffic," said Robert Buchwitz, the chairman of the Hephzibah City Commission.

Mr. Buchwitz said the city plans to expand its sewer system and add infrastructure along Highway 88 to support future development near the town center. Also, a new fire station is being built with a training center that could serve as a community center.

"This is the only area to the south to grow," he said. "This is where the growth will be."

The growing population is not affecting Hephzibah's small-town ambience, residents say. The town doesn't have a major grocery store or restaurant yet.

"People come to my house to look at the stars," said Mr. Barton's wife, Becky, who lives on Storey Mill Road. "It is going to stay that way.

"Hephzibah has the future on the brain, but they want to do it right and not jump into anything," she said. "We would rather go to town than town come to us."

Reach Meg Mirshak at (706) 828-2946 or margaret.mirshak@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Hephzibah was originally called Brothersville, but it was renamed for the Hephzibah Baptist Association, which established a high school in the town in 1860, according to Georgia Place Names. The word "Hephzibah" comes from the Bible and means "My delight is in her."

Source: Augusta Chronicle archives