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East Pasco not rural, census figures say

The numbers surprise some, but not everyone. The Zephyrhills mayor says it's time to plan for the growth.

By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

ZEPHYRHILLS -- The numbers don't lie. But they might be tough to believe.

The Census Bureau has named Zephyrhills one of 76 new "urbanized areas" as a result of the 2000 census.

Qualifying areas must consist of "densely settled territory that contains 50,000 or more people," according to census criteria.

Joining Zephyrhills on the list are such cities as Ames, Iowa; Carson City, Nev.; and Valdosta, Ga.

But Zephyrhills? Urbanized?

"I was kind of surprised," said Dave Aultman, a geography division team leader for the census in Washington, D.C., who also has relatives in west Pasco County.

But Aultman said it's important to remember that the census doesn't abide by city boundaries. While the city has nearly 11,000 residents, the map for the "urbanized" Zephyrhills area stretches north toward Dade City and west toward Wesley Chapel.

Those areas, especially State Road 54 toward Wesley Chapel, are booming as people move north from Tampa.

"There are a lot of areas (nearby) that have developed as much as anything inside the city," Aultman said.

So what does the new label mean for Zephyrhills?

"When you go from a smaller urban core to a larger one, you're definitely up for more grant money," said Jessica White, a research planner for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. "One advantage of being an urban area is it allows you to apply for different kinds of federal funding."

More specifically, the designation makes areas eligible for more mass transit and transportation planning money. But that could come with more government red tape, Aultman said.

Beyond grant money, the more urbanized an area becomes, the more attractive it appears to potential businesses. Cliff McDuffie, mayor of Zephyrhills and the local chamber of commerce executive director, said he has already seen such a trend in action.

"I have heard, even in the past two months, where people looking to do franchising think Zephyrhills is a hot spot," McDuffie said. "With Bruce B. Downs (Boulevard) coming our way and all the building on State Road 54, it's not really surprising."

McDuffie said he has been urging local business owners to cater to the new growth, although he said many are slow to change.

"I've been trying to tell local businesses that they need to develop a local customer base rather than just waiting for winter residents. Let winter residents be icing on the cake," McDuffie said. "I've been looked at like I'm crazy."

City officials, knowing that wild growth is on the horizon, have taken steps to plan wisely. In recent weeks, the city has held visioning sessions to get citizen input on ideas for the future of the city.

The Zephyrhills Main Street organization recently wrapped up a $40,000 study by the University of South Florida on ways to revitalize the downtown. And city staff members recently filed a detailed five-year plan.

Now, the new "urbanized area" designation from the census confirms what people in the city already know: Zephyrhills isn't just a quaint outpost.

"(Growth) is something you are going to get whether you want it or not," McDuffie said. "You just have to be prepared for it."

-- Brady Dennis covers the city of Zephyrhills and crime in east Pasco. To reach him, call (352) 521-5757, ext. 23, or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 23. Send e-mail to

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