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County's growth near state average

A repeat of a boom more than 20 years ago in Pasco is predicted in the next decade especially between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001

A repeat of a boom more than 20 years ago in Pasco is predicted in the next decade especially between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41.

LAND O'LAKES -- Having grown up in Tampa, Tracy Wood doesn't mind the suburbanization of Pasco County.

In fact, growth has its advantages: The past two years have seen a multiplication of new places to eat and shop.

"When we got an Outback Steakhouse out here, we said, "Yea!' " Wood said Tuesday while pushing her 21-month-old son Dylan on his tricycle.

The lure of the bedroom community -- comparatively inexpensive homes within easy commuting distance of Tampa -- is responsible for much of the growth in the central Pasco communities of Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes, and Pasco County as a whole.

According to official numbers released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, Pasco's population grew 23 percent between 1990 and 2000, going from 281,131 people to 344,765. Areas around Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel have doubled and nearly tripled their populations since the decade began.

Pasco's 23 percent increase was nearly identical to Florida's 24 percent growth rate. There now are 15.9-million Floridians, compared to 12.9-million in 1990.

And like Florida, Pasco saw a large increase in Hispanics. Pasco had a 111 percent increase in Hispanics, going from 9,309 in 1990 to 19,603 in 2000.

Most of the growth, however, was in new subdivisions forming along Pasco's southern borders.

The 1990s began with the groundbreaking of Meadow Pointe, the 3,500-home community east of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard that symbolizes the suburbanization of Wesley Chapel.

Then came an outbreak of smaller subdivisions along State Road 54 such Lexington Oaks, Stage Coach and The Enclave.

A big chunk of buyers are young families and middle-aged "empty nesters," many leaving Hillsborough County seeking better housing values.

The Wood family fits the mold. Tracy Wood, 28, and her husband, Dwight, 29, built a house in Stagecoach in 1997. The couple commutes to Hillsborough to work, she as an elementary school teacher, he as an office manager.

Their home was built with 2,190 others that year, according to county records, and part of 22,705 single family homes built between 1990 and 2000.

It doesn't take much to see that Pasco County has grown. A drive down a major road, a tour past one of any number of subdivisions that didn't exist in 1990, shows that growth is as clear as the pool behind that new house.

The west Pasco area of Trinity, for instance, broke ground in 1991. Back then, there were 883 people living in the census tract that is the eastern portion of the subdivision, along the Pinellas County line.

Since then, there has been a 527-percent increase in people, to 5,543, in the east side of the Trinity area. Developers estimate that nearly 20,000 people live in the entire community that straddles two counties.

This might seem like quite a boom, but according to Marvin Rose, author of the Rose Residential Reports, which covers construction in the Tampa Bay area, Pasco's growth was much larger in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"It seems like a lot for the people who live here now," he said.

The 1970s was when west Pasco's growth was fueled by working class northerners buying up land for retirement homes. The growth in the 1990s was fueled by low interest rates, low prices and suburban expansion from the south.

And that will only continue.

"The area that is about to explode is between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41," Rose said. "It's going to explode over the next 10 years. You can't tell now, but between Gunn Highway and 41 in 10 years is going to look like New Tampa."

With the growth of the past 10 years has come the growth battles. Environmental groups have been formed, lawsuits filed and hours of debate at government meetings have gone on -- and will continue.

Clay Colson, one of the founders of a slow-growth group called Citizens for Sanity, moved into the path of the northern growth of Hillsborough County suburbs in the late 1980s. He said he was born in Tampa and "I've been moving away from what people call progress for years."

Colson said Pasco is in real trouble because of the continued growth, and that has been exposed by the drought of the past few years.

"All the drought did was expose the error of their ways," Colson said. "If you don't have the resource (water), you can not approve the development.

"We can not continue to have a development driven economy."

But with houses and land cheaper here than there, and no land left to develop in Pinellas, county planners predict continued Pasco growth.

"Barring economic collapse, we're going to have a very good decade," said Mike Rapp, a planner for the Pasco County School District and district employee for 30 years.

The newly arrived say they've gotten what they wanted.

Jim Hutton and his wife, Kay, both 60, raised two children in the Hillsborough community of Town 'N Country. But changing demographics in their old neighborhood left them feeling unsafe.

Now the couple, a couple years shy of retirement, have everything they want: a new stucco home on a pond near Land O'Lakes, a low crime rate and modest property taxes.

"We love it out here," Jim Hutton said.

- Staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report.

-- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is

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