St. Petersburg Times
Census 2000
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North Pinellas spurs county's growth

Palm Harbor, East Lake, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar account for almost half of the county's population increase of 69,823 people.

By KATHERINE GAZELLA, ROBERT FARLEY and ED QUIOCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001


The news out of the 2000 Census is not that North Pinellas continues to boom.

Drive any road, visit any school or go to dinner any Friday night, and there are more cars, more students and more diners waiting for a table.

No, the news is that North Pinellas has helped to drive the overall growth of Pinellas County. Between 1990 and 2000, the entire county grew by 69,823 people. Nearly half the increase -- 31,831 new residents -- came in Palm Harbor, East Lake, Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar.

The reason, officials say, is space.

"This is the last frontier of development in Pinellas County," said Walter Fufidio, planning and zoning director in Tarpon Springs.

But the pace of growth will level off.

"It's getting built out," said Pinellas County planning director Brian Smith. "It's not a growth curve we'd expect in the future."

Smith said that although people like to complain about traffic congestion, improvements to U.S. 19, Belcher, Keene and East Lake roads have helped facilitate the area's phenomenal growth.

"It takes the same or less time to go from north county to St. Petersburg than it did 20 years ago," Smith said.

In some ways, the area has changed little. There are more Hispanic and black residents, but the percentages of minority residents remain in the single digits throughout North Pinellas.

East Lake: searching for identity

It's no secret who accounts for East Lake's 122 percent increase in population over the last decade: younger families.

In the early 1980s, most East Lake residents were retired executives, doctors and lawyers, with a smaller contingent of young families, said Chuck Schult, a former East Lake fire commissioner and East Lake resident since 1984. Now that mix is just the opposite, Schult said, with young families leading the way.

Dan Bobel, president of East Lake 2000, a civic group, said the census numbers support his organization's call for a clearer East Lake identity.

"Let's stop calling it Palm Harbor, Oldsmar or Tarpon Springs," Bobel said. "We're large enough. East Lake should have its own identity."

Bobel said his group plans to meet with postal officials in the hope of creating an East Lake zip code and getting an East Lake post office.

The organization also would like East Lake signs to let motorists know when they are entering the taxing district.

"I think it's a sense of community," Bobel said. "Where do we live? We live in East Lake."

Oldsmar: a city transformed

In 10 years, Oldsmar has gone from streets made of compacted dirt and shells to large highways bisecting the community.

An influx of young commuter families has filled more than a dozen new neighborhoods. A thriving industrial area and a 20-screen theater draw new companies and movie fans from neighboring communities. A Wal-Mart supercenter, two hotels and several restaurants are on the way.

"We are probably the most changed city in Pinellas County," said Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland, who has lived in the city since 1966. "If you were here in 1985 and came back in the year 2000, you would hardly know you were in the same city."

Oldsmar community development director Nick Staszko has two reasons for the city's growth: proximity to Pasco and Hillsborough counties and available land.

One thing that changed less dramatically is the city's minority population. The number of black residents rose from 153 to 352. The number of Asian residents went from 93 to 333. Hispanics went from 336 to 794.

Marcelo Caruso, who was born in Rio de Janeiro and moved from Safety Harbor about three years ago, said he enjoys Oldsmar's small-town feel. Recently elected to the City Council, Caruso said the lack of diversity does not bother him.

"I don't feel any different between myself and somebody born here," Caruso said.

"America is the only place that you can come from another country, open a business and do good," said Caruso, who owns an auto repair and towing business. "You can be a nobody and do something with your life."

Palm Harbor: a steady mix

A large aerial map at the Hartley House, home of the Palm Harbor Historical Museum, shows the area west of Lake Tarpon to the Gulf of Mexico as it was on Feb. 2, 1962.

"It shows mostly citrus groves," museum director Winona Jones said. "It is the star attraction in the museum. People can't believe it has changed that much."

Jones has lived her entire life in Palm Harbor and while sometimes it seems the change has happened overnight, she said, it really has been gradual over several decades.

The demographics of those coming into Palm Harbor have largely remained the same, said county planning director Brian Smith.

Unlike most of the rest of the county, where population growth can be tagged to younger people replacing older people, Palm Harbor has historically had a mix of young and old, Smith said. The influx of new residents to Palm Harbor over the last decade was more of the same, he said.

Smith attributed the steady population growth in Palm Harbor to affordable housing, open space and a palatable commute to jobs in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa. It actually takes as much as a half-hour less to drive from Palm Harbor to St. Petersburg as 20 years ago, he said.

One other thing is different about the commute, Jones said. Forty years ago, she said, one could drive all the way across the county without losing the scent of orange blossoms.

Tarpon Springs: big boost coming

Charles Lawson is one reason Tarpon Springs' population now tops 21,000.

The retired civil engineer and his wife packed two cars in 1991 and drove out of West Bloomfield, Mich. They left on Thanksgiving Day and headed for the sun.

"We had enough Michigan weather," said Lawson, 75.

They moved into a pretty house in the Pointe Alexis development, at the northwestern edge of the city. The Lawsons spend their time playing duplicate bridge and shooting rounds of golf at Crescent Oaks.

Planned developments such as Pointe Alexis account for most of Tarpon Springs' growth during the past decade, said Walter Fufidio, the city's director of planning and zoning.

Other new developments include Westwinds, Whitcomb Place, Grassy Pointe, Brittany Park, Beckett Bay and Harbour Watch.

The population increases won't stop there. In the next several years, Fufidio said, new homes and apartments will be built throughout the city, including the North Lake townhomes, Riverside Apartments, Whitcomb Pointe, Lansden Court and Tarpon Ridge.

"There's so much under construction now that I'm expecting a big boost between now and the year 2005," Fufidio said.

He anticipates that the city will reach build-out by 2020. Until then, he said, "it is still a high-growth area."

In the past decade, the city's Hispanic population grew from 323 to 909, mirroring a statewide increase. The African-American population decreased from 1,439 in 1990 to 1,292 in 2000.

City Clerk Kathy Alesafis said one possible reason for the city's overall population increase is that seasonal residents seem to stay in Tarpon Springs longer than in past years. She has noticed an increase in the tourists at the Sponge Docks after the traditional tourist season, and she suspects many of them once stayed only for the winter and now are nearly full-time residents.

"They're making their home longer here," she said.

Alesafis said she likes the sound of the city's 2000 population of 21,003, especially because of the most recent additions to her extended family.

"The three are my three grandchildren," she said.

East Lake

1990 population 13,201

2000 population 29,394

Percent change 122.7%

Percent white, non-Hispanic 91.9%

Percent black, non-Hispanic 1.1%

Percent Asian, non-Hispanic 2.3

Percent Hispanic/Latino (any race) 3.7%

Totals may not add up to 100 percent in part because all racial groups are not mentioned here.

Oldsmar

1990 population 8,361

2000 population 11,910

Percent change 42.4%

Percent white, non-Hispanic 85.7%

Percent black, non-Hispanic 2.8%

Percent Asian, non-Hispanic 2.8%

Percent Hispanic/Latino (any race) 6.7%

Totals may not add up to 100 percent in part because all racial groups are not mentioned here.

Palm Harbor

1990 population 50,256

2000 population 59,248

Percent change 17.9%

Percent white, non-Hispanic 93.2%

Percent black, non-Hispanic 0.9%

Percent Asian, non-Hispanic 1.3

Percent Hispanic/Latino (any race) 3.5%

Totals may not add up to 100 percent in part because all racial groups are not mentioned here.

Tarpon Springs

1990 population 17,906

2000 population 21,003

Percent change 17.3%

Percent white, non-Hispanic 87%

Percent black, non-Hispanic 6%

Percent Asian, non-Hispanic 1%

Percent Hispanic/Latino (any race) 4.3%

Totals may not add up to 100 percent in part because all racial groups are not mentioned here.


Related Census 2000 coverage
  • Census highlights Hispanic diversity
  • Population bulge hits Citrus midsection
  • Census numbers don't surprise Hernando schools
  • North Pinellas spurs county's growth
  • Gain may elevate Pasco's political profile
  • Hispanic voter clout on horizon
  • Hillsborough less racially segregated
  • Census data show diminished color lines

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