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Areas growing in opposite directions

Both communities are retirement havens, but in one, the median age is going down, while in the other, it is rising.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001

Both communities are retirement havens, but in one, the median age is going down, while in the other, it is rising.

Beverly Hills and Sugarmill Woods are well-known, growing communities that tend to attract retirees. But while their respective populations soared during the 1990s, the growth came in different forms.

Simply put, Beverly Hills got younger while Sugarmill got older.

This trend was spelled out in recently released census data. Although only a glimpse of the overall Citrus story, this information nugget confirms what observers have noticed for some time: Both these areas are attracting younger families, but Beverly Hills might be slightly ahead.

Beverly Hills' population grew 32 percent during the 1990s. The median age decreased from 71 in 1990 to 67.8 in 2000. The median is the middle point, so half of Beverly Hills is older than 67.8 and half is younger.

Of all the places to get younger, retirement haven Beverly Hills might seem an unlikely candidate. The shift seems even more unusual since Citrus as a whole got older -- the median age increased from 50.8 to 52.6 -- during the 1990s.

"A number of the older people are moving out, passing away or going elsewhere. The homes are very affordable and they prove to be excellent starter homes for young families," said Dick Schnably, president of the Beverly Hills Civic Association.

Not everybody buys, of course. Some people who own homes in the older section of Beverly Hills leave their property to their out-of-state relatives, who then put the houses out for rent, said Gary Maidhof, who directs the county's department of development services.

Whether buying or renting, young families typically come with young children. In Beverly Hills, the number of children younger than 5 zoomed from 90 to 269 during the 1990s, the census figures showed. Changes in the 10-14 and 15-19 age groups were equally striking.

That explains why the school system built Forest Ridge Elementary School. And why the county installed a skateboard facility at Beverly Hills Community Park, which also features bocce courts that older residents favor.

"We recognize the change and we're trying to adapt," said Schnably, 70, who moved to Beverly Hills four years ago from Winston-Salem, N.C.

Across the county, in Sugarmill Woods, population grew 53 percent during the 1990s. The number of young people grew at a healthy clip, if not quite at Beverly Hills' rate, but the real growth was in the senior set.

The number of people age 65 to 74 grew 43.6 percent during the 1990s, while the growth in the 75-84 category and 85 and older group each exceeded 200 percent.

Meantime, in Beverly Hills, the growth in the elderly population was modest. In fact, the number of people age 65 to 74 actually decreased slightly during the past decade.

Sugarmill "has been a very active development," Maidhof said. "What your seeing is a fair number of retirees. You're also seeing . . . a fair number of transfers from the central and south Florida areas."

Skip Christensen, president of the Sugarmill Woods Civic Association, said he was surprised to learn Sugarmill's median age increased during the past decade. He can't quantify his observations but, just from looking around, he sees more younger families and school buses picking up students than he did even four years ago.

He said more and more people are retiring younger, in their 50s, and Sugarmill likely will attract many of them.

Census 2000 figures showed that Citrus has the second greatest median age of all Florida counties. Charlotte's was 54.3.

"We are clearly, as we grow, getting more young people," Maidhof said. "But we still draw more than our fair share of retirees, so when you balance out the number our median age is still fairly high up."

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