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    New ZIP code sparks talk of identity

    In addition to a new ZIP code, some residents say East Lake even needs its own post office.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


    EAST LAKE -- Hoping to create a stronger community identity, a group of East Lake residents is lobbying the U.S. Postal Service to give East Lake its own ZIP code and post office.

    Their pleas come amid a U.S. Postal Service announcement that, because of the area's growing population, a new Tarpon Springs ZIP code has been created for the northern part of East Lake.

    Currently, East Lake is covered by three ZIP codes and mailing addresses of either Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar or Palm Harbor.

    The new ZIP code for parts of northern East Lake will become effective July 1. So some of those who now have a ZIP code of 34689 will become 34688. The Postal Service will notify affected customers by first-class mail.

    After June 1, affected residents should begin notifying their correspondents of the change. Customers will have a full year, until July 1, 2002, to notify their correspondents.

    Leaders of the community group East Lake 2000 think all the area taken in by the East Lake Fire and Rescue District ought to be consolidated under one ZIP code using the mailing address "East Lake, FL."

    "Why shouldn't East Lake have its own ZIP code?" asked Dan Bobel, chairman of East Lake 2000 and an East Lake fire commissioner. "It would give this place a sense of community. I think if we had our own community identity, people would come together more."

    The U.S. Postal Service sympathizes, spokesman Gary Sawtelle said.

    "Community identity is a powerful thing," he said.

    But there are several problems with the plan, Sawtelle said. First, he said, it would be prohibitively expensive to create a post office in East Lake when the area is already served well by Tarpon Springs, Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. It also would require expensive distribution changes.

    "For us to create an East Lake post office with its own ZIP code, it's not something that, operationally, would benefit the post office," Sawtelle said.

    Besides, he said, the mailing address "East Lake, FL" is already spoken for. The small unincorporated community of East Lake that lies just east of the Tampa city limits and uses a Tampa ZIP code has staked a claim to the mailing address.

    The matter is further complicated because Pinellas County's East Lake is served by three different post offices. So if residents agreed to give the community a slightly different and therefore unique moniker -- say East Lake North -- they would need to come up with three names, Sawtelle said. So perhaps, Sawtelle said, there could be an East Lake North, FL, an East Lake South, FL, and an East Lake West, FL.

    Bobel balked at that suggestion.

    "We'd be better off keeping what we've got now," he said.

    Bobel said it's unfair that East Lake residents have to have an address of Oldsmar or Tarpon Springs when East Lake is bigger than both of them. Recently released U.S. census data puts East Lake's population at 29,394, compared with 11,910 in Oldsmar and 21,003 in Tarpon Springs.

    But not everyone agrees with East Lake 2000's view.

    "There is no such place as East Lake as far as I'm concerned," said Chuck Schult, a former East Lake fire commissioner who opposes the East Lake ZIP code. "There is nothing on a map. The only designation for this area is the East Lake Tarpon Special Fire Control District. What more do they want?"

    Schult thinks the expense of a post office is unnecessary.

    "They are trying to take a step closer to incorporation, which is not going to fly," Schult said. "People came here to live in the suburbs, where the taxes are less."

    Don Flynn, vice chairman of East Lake 2000, said incorporation has nothing to do with it.

    "Nobody in East Lake is even remotely interested in incorporation," Flynn said. "That shouldn't have ever come up."

    Flynn is convinced the Postal Service could handle a mailing address change to East Lake, FL. To prove it, he sent a letter to himself from Clearwater using "East Lake, FL" as his mailing address. It got there the next day.

    As for the East Lake community in Hillsborough, he said, it is too small to be able to justify a claim on the name.

    Chuck Dedman, a fire commissioner, said there's another compelling reason to consolidate East Lake under one ZIP code.

    As a newly independent fire district, East Lake Fire and Rescue is now entitled to 1.8 percent of the amount residents spend on fire insurance. That money is earmarked for the local firefighters' retirement fund. The money is distributed to local fire departments based on ZIP codes, which for East Lake, "opens the door for a lot of confusion," Dedman said.

    Besides, Dedman said, there are several unused ZIP code numbers within a couple of digits of the existing area ZIP codes which East Lake could use.

    For years, Dedman said, he used to tell people, "Don't call us East Lake." He feared that was the first step toward incorporation, which he viewed as an expensive boondoggle.

    What changed his mind, he said, was the overwhelming growth in the area. The recently released 2000 census figures show East Lake's population jumped 122 percent since 1990. Yet many people don't even know they live in the East Lake fire district, he said.

    "If we had our own ZIP code," Dedman said, "that would be more of a community cement."

    -- Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

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