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Old neighborhoods get pick-me-up

Published February 15, 2004

PORT RICHEY - A newly built home with sunny stucco walls sits at the corner of Grant Drive and Ranch Road, waiting for workers to clear the last bits of debris and make a front yard out of the heap of sand.

Sometime this spring, new streetlights will illuminate the narrow, rugged roads of East Brown Acres. Then it's on to repaving those roads, creating a community park and building a drainage system to keep the streets from flooding when it rains.

The hope is to brighten up the blighted neighborhood of East Brown Acres, a 290-home community east of U.S. 19, about a mile south of State Road 52.

It's also a test case for redevelopment efforts in Pasco County: the first time county officials have partnered with residents to draft a fixup plan in which everyone contributes.

"I think when people see the county interested in their neighborhoods, they become more interested in their neighborhoods themselves, and they get some hope that things will get better," said George Romagnoli, the county's community development manager. "When someone down the street gets their house fixed up, other people want their yards to look better. It's a cascading effect."

As the central Pasco landscape fills with shiny new subdivisions, officials want to make sure the older neighborhoods aren't left behind.

In East Brown Acres, it started with a hefty government investment: $1.9-million in county, state and federal dollars to buy the streetlights, asphalt, and drainage pipes and to provide zero-interest loans to repair or replace dozens of homes.

Using another $760,200 in state and federal grants, a county-funded nonprofit group snapped up 15 rental homes last year, with plans to refurbish and sell them to low-income home buyers.

Add a few neighborhood cleanup days, code enforcement sweeps and a crime watch program, and residents hope to get a community that is less attractive to rowdy renters and more inviting to long-term homeowners.

"I'm looking for better conditions all the way around in the neighborhood, a place people would enjoy moving into," said Dennis Snider, a 47-year-old chef who moved to East Brown Acres more than five years ago. "I don't want to say it's a bad class of people living here now, but (the redevelopment efforts) would bring in a better class."

Holiday Hill is next in line for a fixup. Residents of that 260-home community, across U.S. 19 from Gulf View Square mall, have been meeting with county officials for nearly a year to draft their plan.

Most homes in Holiday Hill are still in good shape, but street flooding is a big problem.

"We have a vision of what needs to get done. I think the neighbors do, too," Romagnoli said. "I think a lot depends on what the drainage people say (is feasible)."

The county is also pressing forward with its efforts to revitalize Tommytown, a community near Dade City where new pastel-colored homes are gradually replacing crumbling mobile homes and makeshift junkyards.

Using several grant programs, contractors have built about 50 new homes and renovated a dozen more, Romagnoli said. An ambitious $10-million plan calls for street paving, drainage projects and central water and sewer lines.

"There will never be another neighborhood improvement project like Tommytown," Romagnoli said. "It's the largest blighted area in the county, the largest area with so many infrastructure needs."

"We want to help the people that are there, and we want to help new people come in and make it their home," he continued. "It becomes more of a neighborhood, with people looking out for each other."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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