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    Census shows a wealthier north county

    North Pinellas is attracting wealthier and better-educated residents, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census.

    By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 2, 2002


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    The signs have been there for years: more Lexuses and SUVs on East Lake Road, starter houses becoming tough to find in Palm Harbor and new subdivisions popping up in Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs.

    North Pinellas has been a magnet for pricier homes filled with wealthier, better-educated residents, and now the numbers are in to prove it.

    New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that East Lake is loaded with affluence, and Oldsmar experienced a statistical boom in categories indicating economic prosperity. Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs also had gains in these areas, though not as pronounced as the other two communities.

    The latest snapshot provided by the census shows that a surge of college-educated families making good money has been a driving force in shaping the demographics of North Pinellas over the past decade.

    "The point is that it's a lot more difficult to buy a home in East Lake unless you are reasonably well-established and affluent," said Don Flynn, vice chairman of the civic group East Lake 2020. "It's just an area populated by some successful people."

    East Lake: Rural but wealthy

    The unincorporated area tucked in the northeast corner of Pinellas has kept its rural feel while putting up what the U.S. Census says are some of the area's highest indicators of economic prosperity.

    The median value of homes in East Lake is $197,700, more than double the median home value for Pinellas as a whole. In addition, the number of residents in the community with at least a bachelor's degree is at 42 percent, almost twice the percentage for the county and state.

    "It doesn't come to any shock to me at all," Flynn said. "East Lake is a favorite spot for middle- and upper-management-type executives coming into the Tampa Bay area."

    They are drawn to East Lake because of its rural atmosphere, exclusive neighborhoods and easy commute to Tampa and St. Petersburg, he said. Because East Lake was designed with few commercially zoned lots on its main street, East Lake Road, the area has a "lush, bucolic effect" that is different from the congestion of U.S. 19., Flynn said.

    Another sign of East Lake's affluence is the area's median household income, which is $67,546. That number is higher than the state and county's figures, which are $38,819 and $37,111, respectively.

    With families making more money living in the area, that corresponds with homes being more expensive. Typically, couples interested in a home in East Lake will need a $50,000 down payment "just to get in the game," said Flynn, a local real estate broker.

    "You can't hardly buy homes in East Lake for less than $250,000," he said.

    East Lake also provides families who have outgrown their first home an opportunity to expand into larger houses on bigger lots.

    The Luther family moved from Clearwater to East Lake about two years ago for that reason.

    Jeffrey Luther, a Time Warner project leader who graduated from the University of West Florida, wanted to live on a golf course. His wife, Jennifer, a chemistry teacher for the county, wanted a bigger home that was in a good school zone and close to where their children, Jake, 13, Jordan, 10, and Jenna, 7, have their extracurricular activities.

    A four-bedroom home in the Tarpon Woods subdivision fit those requirements.

    "This is our we-outgrew-it-and-had-to-move-to-

    a-bigger-home house," said Mrs. Luther, who graduated from the University of West Florida. "It's also convenient to where our kids play soccer."

    Oldsmar: High-income growth leads Tampa Bay

    Oldsmar used to be the brunt of jokes about being in the middle of nowhere. Now city officials can boast about Oldsmar posting one of the state's biggest increases in households earning high salaries and residents with advanced college degrees.

    In 1990, only 11 households in Oldsmar reported earning $150,000 or more and 136 residents claimed they had a graduate or professional degree. Those numbers skyrocketed in 2000 when 136 households reported earning that much income and 425 claimed they had a graduate or professional degree.

    The 1,136 percent in increase in the number of high earners was the largest of any city in the Tampa Bay area. Statistically, the city outpaced the county and state in those increases by wide margins.

    "Sounds fantastic," said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland. "Incredible. It just goes to say what I've said all along. Oldsmar has been the diamond in the rough and now it's polished."

    When John Anderson and his family were moving from New Orleans about three years ago, they looked for houses in Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. Something about Oldsmar just felt right.

    "It just seemed like it had a lot going for it," said Anderson, a principal software engineer for Honeywell who has a doctorate in physics from Florida State University. "When we came and looked at the house, everybody in the neighborhood waved to say hello."

    They moved into a three-bedroom, two-bath home at the Preserve at Cypress Lakes, a recently built subdivision filled with families. Their neighbors come from all over, he said, and the family has enjoyed the small city's yearly festivities, such as its July Fourth celebration.

    "It's just a great place to live," Anderson said. "I can't say enough good things about it."

    In 1990, census figures show that there were eight homes that were valued at $300,000 or more in Oldsmar. Ten years later, that number was up to 47, a 488 percent increase.

    "It's not bad for a little slumbering town that time forgot," Beverland said.

    Palm Harbor: Starter homes getting scarce

    With pricey homes seemingly crowding out affordable ones in Palm Harbor, Pastor Glenn Morris has noticed a trend with some of the members of his church.

    "I'm seeing a lot of my church moving to Holiday because they can't afford Palm Harbor," said Morris, who is the pastor at the Palm Harbor Christian Center.

    The median value of homes in Palm Harbor has crept up to $124,700 in 2000, which is more than the county's median of $96,500. Census figures also show that the community had a 149 percent increase in the number of homes worth $300,000 or more, going from 336 in 1990 to 835 in 2000.

    The number of high-earning households also spiked over the past 10 years. In 1990, 255 households reported earning $150,000 or more. In 2000, that was up to 1,377, a jump of 440 percent which is almost double the increases in this category for the county and state.

    As the value of land has gone up in Palm Harbor, developers are almost forced to build expensive homes on the lots to make it worthwhile, said Paul Langrock, who specializes in homes sales in Palm Harbor with Re/Max Realtec Group.

    "We have watched them right before our eyes skyrocket," Langrock said.

    Families are attracted to Palm Harbor because of its shopping amenities, good restaurants and good schools, he said. But the area's high demand also means couples looking for their first home probably will have a tough time finding a bargain in Palm Harbor.

    "If you have a nice home that shows well, you can get a good buck for it," Langrock said. "Someone starting out just can't afford them."

    Tarpon Springs: Space remains

    The city posted sizable increases during the 2000 census and city officials say more is on the way. That's because Tarpon Springs is one of the few areas in the county with open space to build homes, said Charlie Attardo, the city's business services specialist.

    "It will increase very significantly because of what is available in the city, and, at least in my estimation, it is the most charming city in the county," Attardo said.

    As evidence of that, Attardo points to the city's picturesque waterways, its strong Greek culture and numerous park and recreation areas.

    "I believe we have more park and recreation space than any community in the county," he said. "These things draw people. They come to the community and see this kind of green space and open space available to them."

    Tarpon Springs also saw an increase in the number of households with high salaries. In 1990, the city had 73 households claim they made $150,000 or more. That grew to 290 in 2000, an increase of 297 percent, which is slightly faster than the county and state's pace.

    In other areas, the city stayed even for the most part with Pinellas and Florida. For example, the median value of homes in the city was $107,100. For the state, that number was $105,500 and for the county it was $96,500.

    That will most likely change when several housing developments currently under way are finished, which will add moderate to high-end homes to the city's numbers, Attardo said. Adding to that, the city frequently fields inquiries from developers interested in building in Tarpon Springs.

    "It's very encouraging," Attardo said. "We just see the city as having a great prospect for the future."

    -- Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or quioco@sptimes.com.

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