Pasco's 23 percent population increase between 1990 and 2000 runs close to Florida's 24 percent growth rate.
By MATTHEW WAITE
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001
TRINITY -- Jobs brought Dana and James Thompson and their two young daughters from a north Atlanta suburb to this plush golf course community in southwest Pasco.
When James Thompson took a job with a Brooksville electronics firm in 1998, the family had its pick of communities in the Tampa Bay area.
So why Trinity?
Everything the family needs -- schools, shopping, church, even golf -- is right here in the self-contained community. But one factor catapulted Trinity, and Pasco County, to the top of the list.
"Taxes were the big reason," said Dana Thompson, 41, a flight attendant based at Tampa International Airport. "We could get more for our money here."
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 such as Trinity, River Ridge, Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel have doubled and nearly tripled in population 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 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.
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 water behind that new house.
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 greater 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 have 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 cannot approve the development.
"We cannot 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 a district employee for 30 years.
Much of what has grown in Pasco, and what is planned for the future, is in emerging self-contained communities like Trinity and River Ridge. These large subdivisions cater to working families and retirees alike, with schools, shopping and recreation all within a short bike ride of home.
For Craig and P.J. Sams and their 11-year-old son, River Ridge offers all the benefits of city living at a much cheaper cost.
"Property taxes here are great," said Craig Sams, 41, who moved his family to River Ridge from Jacksonville after he retired from the Navy in 1999. "It's a big-time difference."
And Sams said Pasco also offers something you can't measure in dollars: "Your neighbors here talk to you." -- Staff writer Cary Davis 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.