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    Conflict in East Lake, FL

    East Lake, Pinellas, wants its Hillsborough neighbor's address.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2001


    EAST LAKE -- As they watch more new houses rise from what used to be cow pastures, some civic-minded North Pinellas residents want to foster a stronger sense of community identity with their own East Lake, FL, mailing address.

    But they have hit a large and unforeseen obstacle.

    "That mailing address is already taken," said Gary Sawtelle, a postal spokesman.

    Yes, there are two East Lakes, one in Pinellas and one in Hillsborough.

    The Pinellas East Lake is a fast-growing suburban community of nearly 30,000 residents living in neighborhoods of high-priced homes and golf courses, wedged between the 2,600-acre Lake Tarpon and the Brooker Creek Preserve.

    The Hillsborough East Lake is a much smaller unincorporated enclave off Interstate 4 just east of Tampa and just across Orient Road from the Seminole Bingo Palace. It is anchored by East Lake Park, a 325-home development of modest 1950s ranch homes built around the 100-acre East Lake.

    In the eyes of the postal service, the Hillsborough East Lake is the only East Lake, Fla.

    Why?

    According to Sawtelle, residents there asked first. And according to postal rules, he said, it is first-come, first-served. In other words, they have dibs on the East Lake mailing address.

    When they found that out recently, Pinellas East Lake residents scoffed.

    "I looked in the Tampa phone book, and there's only five or six businesses there that use the name East Lake," said Don Flynn, vice chairman of East Lake 2000, the community organization leading the charge for postal respect for East Lake, Pinellas.

    "If push comes to shove, who is going to be East Lake on the west coast of Florida?" Flynn said. "I think we'd prevail."

    'Wouldn't matter to me'

    Last week, a St. Petersburg Times reporter paid a visit to East Lake, Hillsborough, to size up the competition to Pinellas County's East Lake and to find out just how hard the Hillsborough residents would fight to keep their East Lake mailing address.

    "What are you talking about?" said Richard Bryant, 69, who has lived for nearly 20 years in the East Lake Park subdivision. "All of us here use Tampa as far as I know."

    Neighbors agreed. Even the East Lake Civic Association newsletter uses a Tampa address.

    Down the street, a postal service vehicle made its way from mailbox to mailbox. Mail carrier Ricardo Diaz said East Lake wasn't his regular route, but as far as he could tell, no one uses the East Lake mailing address.

    Bryant's neighbor Clarence Jennings, 69, a resident of East Lake Park since 1974, said he has never heard of anyone in the area having their mail sent to East Lake. Would he mind if East Lake, Pinellas, took the name?

    "It wouldn't matter to me," Jennings said, shrugging.

    That residents of East Lake, Hillsborough, don't use the East Lake mailing address leads some in both communities to wonder how they got the address in the first place.

    "My guess is the developer thought it would be a cool idea," said Craig Williams, president of the East Lake (Hillsborough) Civic Association.

    That no one knows they had the address shows how unimportant it is, he said.

    For the record, though, Williams would like East Lake residents in Pinellas to know that their Hillsborough counterpart, though much smaller, is not some backwater pushover.

    The area is somewhat unknown, he allowed, because it is an enclave of homes surrounded by I-4 and industrial firms. Homes go for about $75,000 to $150,000, with the more expensive homes closer to or on East Lake.

    "It only exists because of the lake," Williams said.

    And though small, he said, the community is well-organized. East Lake Park formed a taxing district to finance such things as boat ramps, picnic tables, a civic association building, landscaping and signs. They have a monthly newsletter.

    The residents also carry surprising political clout, Williams said. For example, he said, residents lobbied for and got a $500,000 county grant to purify the lake water. The latest controversy is over a small island in the middle of the lake. It is teeming with birds. Too many, it seems. Many residents say the birds' droppings are choking the lake, so they want to thin the ranks.

    The area was perhaps best known for the nearby East Lake Square Mall, now Netpark, which is filled largely with Internet technology firms. Several businesses along Hillsborough Avenue west of I-4 also use East Lake in their names.

    If East Lake got the postal mailing address, Williams said, it is probably because it has been around a couple of decades longer than East Lake in Pinellas.

    In recently released census data, a census tract that encompasses East Lake Park and some of the surrounding communities shows a population of 2,692. During the past decade, the area has not seen its population grow significantly.

    'If they don't care . . .'

    In contrast, the population of East Lake in Pinellas has shot up 122 percent since 1990 and reached 29,394 in 2000.

    That population deserves its own mailing address, ZIP code and post office, says Dan Bobel, chair of East Lake 2000, local fire commissioner and publisher of the East Lake Eagle monthly newspaper. East Lake, Pinellas, is served by three ZIP codes in three post offices: Palm Harbor, Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs.

    "If they don't care whether they have the mailing address or not, why shouldn't we have it?" Bobel said.

    Kathy Carlsen, manager of the address management systems department for the postal service in Tampa, said that, while shifting a mailing address is unusual, it is not impossible. Perhaps, she said, the post office could run a filter to find out how many letters are addressed to East Lake to see whether anyone in Hillsborough is using it.

    But even if East lake were to wrest the East Lake mailing address from its Hillsborough neighbors, Carlsen said, that wouldn't solve the problem. Because East Lake is served from three different post offices, she said, East Lake would need three different names, such as East Lake, East Lake North and East Lake South.

    They can't all be East Lake, FL, Carlsen said, because if a letter was mailed to East Lake, FL, without a ZIP code, or with an unreadable ZIP code, the postal service wouldn't know to which of the three post offices to send the letter.

    A post office for East Lake also doesn't seem likely.

    "It's not a viable option," Carlsen said. "Post offices are only established for the purpose of delivery. Where we already have mail delivery, the need is not there."

    Carlsen said she has been invited to a breakfast meeting of East Lake 2000, but she likely will decline.

    "I have nothing to offer them they want to hear," she said.

    - Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185.

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