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COMING SOON // Doubts supplant growth gusto

Ronald Padgett's job with Florida Power Corp. brought him to Land O'Lakes in 1972.

Back then, he recalls, the only things at the sleepy crossroads of U.S. 41 and State Road 54, the main junction in the community, were a convenience store and a bait and tackle shop.

These days, the intersection is home to a shopping center, a strip mall, two convenience stores, an auto parts store, a lumber yard and a real estate office. Traffic clogs the roads.

The community has grown steadily, attracting working families who want suburban security and lower taxes with convenient access to the big city.

That growth proved profitable for Padgett's employer. The more, the better, he thought.

But Padgett, 65, is retired now. He lives on Big Moss Lake, not far from County Line Road.

Sometimes he fishes the lake for bass. Mostly, though, he just sits in his recreation room, drinks a cold beer and watches the young people zip around on water scooters.

He has mixed emotions about what has happened to the sleepy bedroom community.

"If you don't grow, you die. Nothing's going to happen," Padgett said. "When I first came out here, I talked to a businessman who had a store out here on 41. I told him we need some growth. He wanted to build a fence around here where no one could get in. Some old-timers didn't want growth.

"I guess I'm getting to be one of those old-timers, because I don't know whether I want much more growth or not."

In his younger days, the headaches that come with rampant growth didn't bother him.

But now, in his golden years, that has changed. He looks back and blames county and state officials for allowing growth without improving roads and utilities to keep pace.

"I was a strong advocate of seeing the area grow, but after I got out of the power company five years ago, I got to where I want to see it slow down a bit," Padgett said. "It depends on the hat you wear, I suppose. What happens when you have growth in some respects is good. I just hope we don't move too rapidly."