Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach deal with development and questions about a sense of community.
By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001
The Barritt family's experience in Indian Shores is a classic beach story.
Seasonal residents since 1949. Lived in Tampa but vacationed in a split-log cabin on 180 feet of beachfront.
By the early 1980s, when Edna and W.J. deeded the original property to their three daughters, the Barritt sisters owned almost 300 feet of Gulf of Mexico real estate.
The choices the siblings would make illustrate the changes that have occurred in Indian Shores during the past 25 years.
In 1993 the sisters sold the family's original property for $330,000 to a New York couple, who leveled the cabin and built a home now assessed at well over twice that.
Suzy Gilbert took her share from the sale and no longer has a stake on the beach. She lives in Georgia. But the two sisters who still live in Tampa kept the adjacent lots they bought in the '70s.
Nancy Barritt built a two-bedroom vacation home on her land for $179,000. According to the property appraiser, the home now is valued at $338,200.
Older sister Barbara Romano renovated the two 1940s cottages on her property. She uses one as a weekend getaway and rents the other to help pay her taxes.
In the past two years, property values here have risen 18.4 percent, and even longtime residents think about selling.
Since 1990, there have been almost 2,300 permits issued for residential construction (new and renovations) in a town about one-third of a square mile. Most of the permits were for multi-unit condominiums, according to Betty Doster, the city's director of finance and personnel.
"We have property owners who are pro-development and want to build four- and five- and six-story buildings," Indian Shores building official Mike Nadeau said. "On the other side of the coin are the old-time beachy people who would like to see Indian Shores remain a quaint beach community. They just hate it every time they see a shovel go into the sand."
Don Tabor, serving his second year as mayor, doesn't mind the changes. "A lot of mom-and-pop motels are being torn down and million-dollar condos are going up. I think it's good. It's bringing up the tax base. A lot of the smaller places were having a hard time surviving."
But some longtime residents fret about what they perceive as a shift in ownership. In 1990, 38.3 percent of the town's total housing units were for seasonal, recreational or occasional use. In 2000, that figure rose to 53.6 percent. Mary Lois Harrison, a 27-year resident, thinks the increase has contributed to a diminished sense of community.
"More and more people are buying condominiums that they use only part of the year," she said. "They're making a financial investment but not an emotional investment."
The beauty of the town, Nadeau said, is that there is room for differing opinions. Year-round residents, who total 1,705, according to 2000 census figures, get along with seasonal visitors. Longtime residents and newcomers work side by side on community projects such as the semiannual coastal cleanups. They participate in the town's social events such as the Memorial Day picnic and the holiday boat parade.
In short, they co-exist the same way that Barbara Romano's cottages co-exist with their $1-million next-door neighbor.
Indian Rocks Beach, with five times the population, begins at the northern end of Indian Shores and reaches 2.6 miles to Belleair Shore. Most of its 5,100 residents live in single-family houses or apartments on fingers that reach eastward into the Intracoastal Waterway. Single-family cottages, duplexes, motels and condos line the beach side of Gulf Boulevard.
Betsy Schoepf, executive director of the Beach Art Center, moved to Indian Rocks Beach from Tampa in 1977. She and her husband, Burton, bought a 1917 coquina-and-sand beach house for $50,000 that is worth $350,000 today.
The cottage stands in the shadow of a multistory condo, but Schoepf said development -- 887 new housing units amounting to a 28 percent increase since 1990 -- hasn't affected the small-town atmosphere.
"Neighbors are acquainted with neighbors and are there for you," she said. "It's reminiscent of an old-fashioned front-porch way of life."
The art center has become a nucleus of civic activity, said Schoepf, 63. On a recent Saturday, 150 people gathered for resident Ed Starr's 50th birthday. The previous Saturday, more than 100 convened for a reception hosted by Action 2000, one of the city's organizations.
Founded several years ago after a series of focus groups met to determine residents' concerns, Action 2000 and its 250 members drafted a plan for Gulf Boulevard that would make the road prettier and safer.
Several residents are third-generation Indian Rocks. Vice Mayor R.B. Johnson, who spent some of his youth in Tampa, lives in a wood cottage his grandfather built in the 1930s.
Now in his second year as a city commissioner after being "pressed into service," Johnson started attending City Hall meetings about 10 years ago.
The beach has always been a rallying point for the community, he said. Twenty-eight landscaped beach accesses, one on every street, allow people to walk directly from Intracoastal neighborhoods onto the gulf front.
Improvements in the past several years -- pedestrian refuge islands that ease the crossing of Gulf Boulevard, an 11-acre nature park with a dog run, and beach access lights that protect sea turtles -- have added to the city's sense of community spirit, Johnson said.
"There's a lot of local pride, a real fierce spirit around here," he said. "It's like a recipe. If you get a couple of things off, it doesn't quite taste the same. We have all the right ingredients."