The mother of all annexation fights these days is not St. Petersburg's 28-acre grab in Tierra Verde. This one is more than 70 times bigger.
The city of Oldsmar, at the top of Tampa Bay, proposes to take in that part of unincorporated Pinellas County known as East Lake Woodlands.
This puppy is huuuuge. Picture Tampa Road on the south, East Lake Road on the west, and the Brooker Creek Preserve on the east.
We're talking about:
• Almost 2,100 acres, which would increase the land area of Oldsmar by a third.
• About 6,500 people, which would bump Oldsmar's population from about 14,000 to more than 20,500.
• More than $700 million worth of taxable property, including the commercial stuff at Tampa and East Lake roads.
East Lake Woodlands is practically a city by itself anyway — a peaceful, suburban, gated-street, golf-club sort of place. Its sub-neighborhoods have their own names. There are 56 separate homeowners associations.
But unlike St. Petersburg's invasion of Tierra Verde, which was "voluntary" because it involved two willing property owners, Oldsmar can't pull off something this big without democracy — in other words, an election.
(Hmm, unless Oldsmar wanted to imitate St. Pete, find one or two willing guys, run a snorkel into East Lake Woodlands and declare it "contiguous." But hey, I ain't tryin' to give them ideas.)
There's another twist. Oldsmar has decided to make this the county's first all-mail election. Ballots are being mailed out now.
Only registered voters in the annexation area get to vote. Ballots are due by March 10. If you don't get one or have a question, call the elections office at (727) 464-6788.
(Oh, and be sure to put a stamp on the ballot envelope unless you drop it off in person at the elections office.)
So far, most of the East Lake Woodlands folks who have spoken out at public meetings seem to be opposed. If there's a majority in favor, it's silent.
"It's taken on a life of its own," says Judy Fosbrook, president of the East Lake Woodlands Community Association. "I do not believe the city of Oldsmar anticipated the firestorm it was starting."
As in all annexation fights, the city and county have produced dueling figures.
The city promises the same services or better, but makes few iron-clad guarantees. That's probably a deal breaker— the few residents I've talked to have no confidence for the long run, or what will happen to their much-prized roads and gates.
The East Lake Woodlands Heron published a thorough review of the pros and cons, and in the end reported that the association's board voted 7-1 against the annexation.
"The term that's been used all along is, 'Trust us,' " says association president Fosbrook. "I don't do that on something like this. I want hard and fast legal rulings."
Pinellas County, with 24 cities, has always been prone to annexation fights. There was a truce agreed upon a few years ago, but it was recently thrown out by a court.
Each new annexation whittles away another desirable part of the unincorporated county. One day there'll be one county resident left, responsible for all the taxes.
But the saving grace here is that the registered voters of East Lake Woodlands control their own fate. Power to the people and all that. Not everybody is so lucky.