When Mayor Kenneth A. Miller and his family moved to West Jordan 17 years ago, the town had a population of about 4,500.

Today, West Jordan is home to about 43,000 people and counting, making it one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.Among medium-size cities, only six grew faster than West Jordan during the 1980s, and they were all in the so-called Sun Belt, according to a survey released last week by Century 21 Real Estate Corp.

The survey came as a surprise to just about everybody except West Jordan officials and residents, many of whom contend that the ranking would have been even higher but for inaccurate census figures.

"We believe - and we have the data to back it up - that our population is closer to 50,000," said Miller.

That argument aside, no one doubts that West Jordan has grown up fast or that it is it still growing. One look at a housing map of the Salt Lake Valley reveals one reason: land. Precious little of it is left anywhere else in the valley.

Another reason, according to city planners and boosters, is lifestyle. "To me, the number one appeal of West Jordan has always been that it's a great place to raise a family," Miller said.

He and his wife had one child when they relocated to West Jordan. As their family grew - they now have six - they moved into a larger house, but not away.

City Manager John Hiskey said an increasingly diverse housing stock, a well-developed community infrastructure and employment opportunities make it possible for thousands of families like the mayor's to remain in West Jordan. In 1987, West Jordan's population had an average age of 19, earning it the title "Youngest City in America." A few years and an influx of older residents has aged it a bit.

"We have evolved into a total community, not just a bedroom community or an industrial town," Hiskey said. "Young people are moving here and staying here."

City planner Garth Smith said the number of "upscale" executive homes in West Jordan has increased and become a significant factor in the housing blend. "We have everything from starter homes to homes for the millionaire," he said, adding, "Our image has changed."

Housing development boomed in the mid-'80s and then leveled off, but it appears to be on the upswing again, Smith said. The peak years were 1983 and 1984, when 1,325 single-family homes and 213 apartment units were built. The number of new homes dropped to 121 in 1989, a decrease blamed on the state of the economy.

"We're seeing the number starting to grow now," Smith said. "Not only is the trend up, but the type of housing being built in West Jordan is of a high quality."

And there's plenty of room for those new houses, Miller adds, noting that two-thirds of the city's land is still vacant.

Chamber of Commerce President Craig Dearing said business has kept pace. So far this year, 77 new businesses have located in West Jordan, compared to 67 during 1989.

"I would say this has been the best year of the past three in West Jordan," Dearing said.

Like Miller, he says the city's appeal is its family-oriented neighborhoods and community activities. The town has 13 parks, eight major shopping centers, schools, safe streets, low crime rate, "and it still has a country atmosphere," Dearing said.

Rapid growth often spells trouble for a community, but West Jordan officials predict that their city will maintain its attractive lifestyle.

"West Jordan is a progressive community that wants controlled growth," Dearing said. "We want to continue to have the amenities that brought us here in the first place, and we can do it with leadership and a solid master plan."

Miller said, "Not only can we preserve our lifestyle, we can enhance it."

West Jordan's economic base is growing stronger and providing the city with the tax revenues needed to develop the infrastructure as the population grows, the mayor said. One area that needs improvement is the city's transportation links, "and we're working on that," the mayor added.