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Pasco builders tapping fountain of youth

Developers discovered Pasco County's first fountain of youth a few years ago flowing from Tampa into Land O'Lakes, and in 1990 it looks as though they are finally ready to tap into a second important source of young homebuyers. The circumstances conspiring to create this shift from Pasco's traditional market of northern retirees are all interrelated but independently identifiable: Accelerated growth and new growth management laws have combined to strain the supply of land for new housing in Pinellas County and to a lesser extent in Hillsborough County, pushing homebuyers north to Pasco.

Pasco builders and developers have seen the success of several local projects aimed at young families, and seem poised to start a trend.

Trinity Communities, scheduled to open by the end of 1990, will provide thousands of acres for new housing in the Pasco location most convenient to parts of both Pinellas and Hillsborough.

Trinity, in which first-phase plans call for an even split between retirees and younger homeowners, and other projects moving forward in the county show that the development community is ready to stop simply responding to younger homebuyers and start facilitating their movement into West Pasco.

"I think it's a reflection that developers and builders see the younger market as a lasting trend more so than just a glitch in the age structure," said Joseph Narkiewicz, executive director of the Pasco Builders Association. "They want to go out and aggressively capture that market rather than just respond to it."

Ready for change

For years, developers have said that Pinellas workers eventually would overflow into West Pasco, and occasionally builders even adjusted a home model or two to attract some of the pioneers in such a movement.

In 1989, those adjustments became full-fledged projects, with several builders making a concerted effort to lure a younger market to Pasco.

Examples can be found in 1,900-acre River Ridge, where Grandview Homes Corp. uses a low-interest mortgage program to come up with monthly payments intended to compete with the rent a young couple or family might pay in Pinellas. In the same development Decker Classic Homes offers basic starter homes, with no extras, and starting costs as low as $3,000.

While River Ridge still attracts plenty of retirees, the development also is getting a healthy stream of younger homebuyers.

"I can categorize most of our visitors in two categories, 35 to 44 years old and 55 to 64 years old," said Bobbi Paulson, director of sales and marketing for River Ridge. "It used to be probably 80 percent older people, but maybe in the last two years we've seen this influx of young people to make it 50-50."

The reasons for the change are simple, Paulson said: River Ridge offers homes that younger buyers are interested in, and changes in Pinellas and Hillsborough are forcing those same buyers into Pasco.

Pinellas County is running out of room for new houses, particularly houses in a semi-rural setting. The dwindling supply of land pushes up prices, and that pushes buyers without enough money into new markets.

Pasco, with its lower land prices and proximity to Pinellas, has become a haven for first-time homebuyers who can't afford the down payments on a lot of new Pinellas housing.

Rutenberg Construction Co. recognized the same trend about a year ago, marching its Homes for Young America program into Nature's Hideaway, on Seven Springs Boulevard less than two miles north of the Pinellas line.

The program uses a couple of years of reduced mortgage payments to help make a young family's first home affordable. The name of the program and the advertisements, which show a small child in a swing, make it pretty clear who is the target market.

Rutenberg Construction bought 146 lots in Nature's Hideaway, and sold more than 100 homes in the first year, according to vice president of sales Tom Riley.

"There is a definitely built-up demand in northern Pinellas and southern Pasco . . . that is the young family that has not owned a home before," Riley said. "The houses are either too expensive or they're not in communities oriented to the young buyer."

Big impact

If Nature's Hideaway is a clue to the future, Trinity could be the


Jireh Inc.'s development is planned to include 9,600 homes, built over a 20-year span. It covers 3,700 acres along the Pinellas and Hillsborough county lines, with a little bit of land in Pinellas.

Along with churches, parks, schools and golf, the development is planned to include 1-million square feet of commercial space and a 3-million-square-foot business park.

When Jireh began planning the first phase of development three years ago, projections called for 75 percent of the residents to be retired, but recent market studies have dropped the retiree's share to half.

"Some of the indicators are that the primary home market in Pinellas County has closed out faster than we thought it would," said Jireh vice president Dan Aldridge. "I would tell you very honestly that we've looked more at the Pinellas County market than the Pasco County market in shaping Trinity."

That shape, with the full range of amenities and facilities, is intended to create a unified community, where families can live, play and eventually work, and Aldridge said that environment alone would have increased Trinity's attraction to a younger market.

Aldridge, who has an interest in Trinity's success, is not alone in his claims.

Michael Rapp probably keeps closer track of child populations, and thus young families, than anyone in Pasco, and he already is seeing signs of an explosion in southwest Pasco.

Rapp, director of planning and construction for the Pasco County School Board, has opened two elementary schools in the area in the last two years, and both already need portable classrooms to handle all the students.

While Rapp had come to expect that kind of growth in Land O'Lakes, it is still surprising in West Pasco.

"West Pasco has gradually shifted to younger families," Rapp said. "But Trinity I have to watch closely, because if they are as successful as I think they might be, the impact could be quick."

Pasco residential building permits Year Single-family Multifamily Total Change 1982 1,776 716 2,492 -- 1983 2,310 893 3,203 +28.5% 1984 2,280 1,340 3,620 +13.0% 1985 2,737 1,890 4,627 +27.8% 1986 1,985 1,578 3,563 -22.9% 1987 2,910 880 3,790 +6.4% 1988 2,321 301 2,622 -30.8% 1989 2,051 323 2,374 -9.4%