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Population bulge hits Citrus midsection

The 1990s brought a 26 percent increase, but the growth was not evenly spread.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001

The 1990s brought a 26 percent increase, but the growth was not evenly spread.

PINE RIDGE -- The U.S. Census Bureau didn't tell Joy L. Holland anything she hadn't figured out on her own.

The bureau said the census tract that includes Pine Ridge, Lecanto and the surrounding area between County Road 491 and U.S. 19 was the fastest growing part of Citrus County during the 1990s.

The population there increased almost 59 percent, from 7,371 to 11,700. "We've had a lot of building going on in this neighborhood for the last few years," said Holland, a Realtor with Prudential Florida Showcase Properties, the only real estate agency in Pine Ridge. Prudential's parent company is Citrus Hills, the current developer of Pine Ridge.

"If you had driven through Pine Ridge in the early '80s, there was hardly anything here," Holland said. Most of the homes "were built since 1985 or so."

All told, the Citrus population increased 26 percent during the 1990s. But the growth was not evenly spread.

The coastal regions west of U.S. 19 registered small population changes. The county's southwest corner actually decreased in population, from 4,323 to 4,209, the census figures showed.

(Sugarmill Woods, which is east of U.S. 19, was a notable exception in west Citrus. The population soared 53 percent, from 5,259 to 8,056.)

The lakes region east of Inverness also reported relatively moderate growth, the figures showed.

Meanwhile, central Citrus boomed. Aside from Pine Ridge, the census tract that covers Citrus Hills showed a 53 percent increase in population. Citrus Springs showed a 37 percent population jump. The Beverly Hills tract was up 32 percent.

Clark Stillwell, a veteran lawyer who specializes in land-use issues and also represents the city of Crystal River, noted that the county comprehensive plan encourages development in central Citrus and discourages it in the environmentally sensitive coastal and lakes regions.

"That is being accomplished," Stillwell said.

The Pine Ridge growth didn't surprise the lawyer. "They are doing 300 homes a year in Pine Ridge, which reflects . . . that that housing price range and that housing style is what the market is looking for," Stillwell said.

There is plenty of room for more: Pine Ridge has 5,000 lots, but only 2,000 have homes on them, according to Holland, the Realtor.

The overall census figures showed what Citrus residents and business owners have observed, or at least suspected, for quite some time: This once-rural county is growing up in a hurry.

Major restaurant chains such as Applebee's have found their way here, and others -- most notably the Outback Steakhouse -- are on their way. Super Wal-Marts are on the horizon, and Home Depot already is here.

Home builders and Realtors are keeping plenty busy constructing and selling homes to retired folks from the North and from other parts of Florida.

"There's growth here. There's new homes going up, and I know of two others going up," said Stanley Fordyce, 90, who has lived off U.S. 41 south of Floral City for the past 35 years.

"There's a lot more people. It's about 10 to 1 what it was when I came here" from Ohio, he said. I'm well pleased with the county. I love it here. I have nice neighbors. It's a nice place to live."

If the census showed relatively modest growth in Fordyce's neighborhood, the opposite was true in Donna Stroyls' area, Sugarmill Woods.

Mrs. Stroyl and her husband, Stan, moved to Sugarmill three years ago from Cincinnati. Stan Stroyl loves to fish and fell in love with west Citrus as a place to retire.

"We wanted to build over on the water," Mrs. Stroyl said. But strict growth regulations didn't deter them. Mother Nature did.

The Stroyls heard horror stories about the March 1993 storm and its floods. "That really was a good deterrent," she said.

If location sold the Stroyls on Sugarmill Woods, why is Pine Ridge so popular with home buyers and builders?

"No. 1, the minimum lot size is 1 acre," Holland said. "Second, we are a bird sanctuary and the neighborhood encourages the builders to save as many trees as possible, so they don't do clear-cutting in here.

"Third, we are an equestrian community and there are not many in this immediate area," Holland said. "Fourth, our deed restrictions are not as restrictive as some of the other upscale neighborhoods' are."

Home buyers, builders and sellers aren't the only people interested in the census. It also will be useful information for government planners, who must anticipate growth and prepare for it.

Bill Humbaugh, executive director of support services for the public schools, noted the significant growth in Pine Ridge and Beverly Hills and Sugarmill Woods. "That is all consistent with what we have seen" in student growth areas, he said.

"But new houses don't always equal new students," Humbaugh said. "Citrus Hills shows a lot of new homes, but not necessarily a lot of new students."

Not everyone says the county's population growth is obvious.

"It's hard to say, because you get that influx in the winter months," said Lee Nowicke, president of a homeowners association that covers a small part of Beverly Hills near Civic Circle.

Nowicke moved here in 1987 from Barrington, Ill. "Maybe it (growth) has been so gradual that you just accept it," he said.

- Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report.

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