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Communities of Seminole

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    By vote, new areas stick to Seminole

    Last year, the annexation ball started rolling and the city has almost doubled in size since then.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 1, 2001


    photo
    [Times photo: Boyzell Hosey]
    A sign encourages residents to join Seminole in January. Voters in two neighborhoods -- Townhomes of Lake Seminole and Sandy Woods -- chose to join the city.

    Regina Grunza is a new resident of Seminole. But she didn't move into the city. Instead, Seminole came to her.

    The neighborhood she lives in joined the city on June 22. Mrs. Grunza went to the polls 10 days earlier and voted for a referendum that annexed the Orangewood subdivision into Seminole.

    Mrs. Grunza, 43, said that even before the annexation, she considered her home as Seminole.

    "All around us is Seminole," she said. "So it would be pretty silly to be that little area that doesn't belong to the city."

    And besides, she said, it was Seminole. If it came down to a choice between living in Seminole or Largo, she wanted Seminole.

    "I have nothing against Largo," she said, "but Seminole has the reputation. It has the name."

    Mrs. Grunza is one of about 6,000 residents whose neighborhoods were annexed into the city during the past year. The deluge is in sharp contrast to previous years, when annexation calls numbered only about a dozen annually. In 1998, Seminole annexed three single-family homes; in 1999, it annexed three homes and the Shores of Long Bayou condominium development.

    City leaders hope plenty of other folks share Mrs. Grunza's view of Seminole. Banners around town ask people to "Come Grow With Us." Brochures with information about the city, its services and financial status are readily available.

    Seminole officials want to square off the city's jagged borders. They want to triple the city's size to 12.5 square miles, which would become home to as many as 60,000 residents. Today, Seminole's approximately 16,000 residents live within a 4-square-mile city.

    Annexation always has been a goal of Seminole leaders. Since the city was founded in 1970, the city has tried to stretch its boundaries. But no significant growth happened until June 13, 2000, when voters in three neighborhoods overwhelmingly approved joining the city. The annexation, which nearly doubled Seminole's size and substantially added to its tax base, was the largest in the city's history and among the biggest ever in Pinellas County.

    The referendum included the Seminole Lake Country Club Estates area, south of Park Boulevard and west of Park Street; the Woodbridge area, property north and south of 102nd Avenue N west of 113th Street; and the Gardens area, north of Park Boulevard and west of Starkey Road.

    "We are delighted to be part of the city," said Sam Skemp, first vice president of the Seminole Lake Country Club Estates' homeowners association. "As a whole, our community is really pleased. The city has been very responsive to us."

    Seminole touts its annexation philosophy as low-key. Officials say they wait for people to come to them before they start annexation procedures. Just about every week, the city hosts information meetings for areas interested in joining Seminole.

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    Skemp said members of the homeowners association approached Seminole officials about joining the city. He said neighborhood representatives decided to go on the offensive when they heard they could be annexed by either Pinellas Park or Largo. If annexation was eventually inevitable, they said, they wanted to pick the city to join.

    Skemp, 75, said he is glad his neighbors chose Seminole. And he said he is glad other unincorporated areas are following.

    "We were the leaders," he said. "We started it."

    In January, voters in two neighborhoods -- Townhomes of Lake Seminole and Sandy Woods -- chose to join the city. The vote boosted Seminole's population by about 1,500 residents and its size by 78 acres.

    Chris Jackson, 44, who helped coordinate annexation efforts in the Sandy Woods subdivision, said higher property values and the city's $6.1-million recreation center were two selling points for her.

    In addition to the Orangewood subdivision, voters in the Seminole Forest neighborhood, an area of 34 homes and a 10-acre county park south of 110th Avenue N and east of 113th Street, voted June 12 to join the city.

    And there is another annexation referendum on the way. On Aug. 7, voters in Seminole Grove Estates, a neighborhood west of 113th Street between 86th and 102nd avenues, will decide whether they want to become the city's newest residents. If so, Seminole will garner another 81 acres, 476 registered voters and 222 homes.

    Communities of Seminole