So the developer bought land in the northern reach of the city limits, built his own street, and filled it with houses of any size he wanted. Then he built another street. And another.
“We’re trying to build a town here,” Angel said Thursday, driving around the unfinished dirt roads of the Buckhorn subdivision, a neighborhood along Alexandria-Jacksonville Highway with more than 200 homes built by Angel in the last seven years. It’s the quickest-growing area of the small city of about 3,000 people, and it’s one of the few growing areas in the entire county.
According to census estimates released last week, the population of Calhoun County has dwindled since 2010, with a decrease in the number of residents in Anniston, Jacksonville, Oxford and Piedmont.
But not Weaver.
“Every time Mr. Angel puts up a home we get another water customer, another property tax customer,” said Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis. “As long as he keeps building homes, Weaver is going to grow.”
Weaver’s growth is small, to be sure. The Census Bureau estimated Weaver’s population in 2012 at 3,068, up from the 3,038 residents counted in 2010. But according to Mike Howard, Weaver’s building inspector, 37 new homes popped up in the city in 2011 and 2012. All of them were in Buckhorn.
Angel said he didn’t know the exact population of the subdivision, but about 200 of the houses he’s constructed are occupied, and most with a couple or a family. He puts a rough estimate at about 500 – around 16 percent of the entire population of Weaver.
“You see subdivisions a lot in bigger cities,” said Janet Smart, who moved to Buckhorn from Jacksonville less than a year ago. “You don’t really see them a lot in the Anniston area. He’s made it really affordable.”
Angel said he sold the first, smaller homes built in the subdivision for around $100,000, but the houses throughout Buckhorn range in price from $95,000 up to $200,000 for some of the larger homes built recently.
Andy and Kandi Fulmer moved with their children to the neighborhood in 2011 for a chance to buy a brand new home in an affordable neighborhood. Andy said while he’s lived in Weaver since 1994, Buckhorn feels like an entirely different place.
“This wasn’t here when I was growing up,” he said. “It does feel a little isolated from the rest of the city, but the majority of people are kind of moving here now.”
It means Weaver’s modest growth, compared to Buckhorn’s rapid growth, indicates other parts of the city are leaking residents, said City Councilman Mike Warren. A lot has to do with an elderly population, he said, who have died and left vacant homes, or left the city to be closer to family elsewhere. Meanwhile, Buckhorn has mostly attracted young, working class families, he said.
“When you’re out there, it feels like it’s not even Weaver, it’s kind of its own place,” Warren said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing, but I’m sure a lot of places are like that.”
Willis said the drop-off in other areas of the city is a combination of factors, but a lot has to do with a sagging economy.
“The people who have left did to chase jobs,” Willis said. “But for people who are established, who have families, you don’t really see them leaving Weaver.”
While Angel’s plans for Buckhorn include bringing in commercial growth, including a new restaurant, grocery store and wine vineyard, Willis said he sees Buckhorn’s future mainly as residential — attracting exactly the kind of residents he sees sticking with the city for the long haul.
“That’s the kind of people you want,” Willis said. “People who are going to take pride in their community and not just leave town.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
Editor's note: This story has been modified from the version originally posted to correct the timing of Weaver's population growth indicated by the Census Bureau's estimates. The city was estimated to have 3,068 residents in 2012, up from 3,038 residents counted in 2010.