It was a mid-October Saturday with comfortable temperatures and clear skies — the payoff that gets Floridians through seemingly endless summers.
Spend that day in Tampa's planned Westchase community, and you understand why so many people choose to live and work here, happy to do so even on the stickiest of days. Common interests, especially schools and children's sports teams, and neighborhood businesses drive the community feel, says resident Chris Planeta, a 45-year-old former Marine.
"You never have to go anywhere," he says. "You know everybody because you're always around here. The kids are at the same bus stop over here, a block away. So every morning at 7:30, it's dogs and coffee, 95 kids getting on the bus, all the dads are dressed in suits and the moms are in sweats, and off we go in our separate directions. It's great. Absolutely great."
Westchase was designed to bring clients to the businesses by offering a variety of residences: apartments, apartments above retail, townhomes, maintenance-free villas and single-family homes, says Kirk David, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker. "Westchase was the first master-planned community in this part of the county that included residential and commercial and office space."
Westchase was created, David says, with a "South Tampa setup" in mind. West Park Village, the social/business hub at Linebaugh Avenue and Montague Street, "kind of reminds me of the old Hyde Park," says John Kromer, broker/owner of Century 21 Bay West.
But Planeta, who has lived in both areas, says Westchase has accomplished what South Tampa could not. "Our biggest observation of South Tampa is: $100,000 house, $1.6 million house, deserted house, $2 million house. It's just very disparate. Everybody goes to different private schools. We lived down there for a while and talked to only several of the neighbors over a period of years.
"I think this (Westchase) was set up this way, bringing you to places that they have put together, so you get drawn into it. There are parks where all the houses face each other. The kids are there, you just get sucked in."
The neighborhood also has brains behind the beauty of its social greenspace. "It's all underground utilities, reclaimed water, natural gas — all the things that a lot of people are looking for in a planned-unit development," Kromer says. "It's almost a Disney-ish feel. Everything is newer, clean."
David explains it this way: "Westchase has all the eye candy that none of these other places around here have."
Lawrence Hollyfield is a freelance writer in Tampa. He can be reached at LH@excom1.com.
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Compiled from Hillsborough County property appraiser records by Times researcher Will Gorham; *Jan. 1-Oct. 16