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A cottage industry

 
Published July 11, 2003|Updated Sept. 1, 2005

Tiffany Turner and Ken Katona sit in the shaded splendor of Bellagio Ristorante's sidewalk cafe, waiting for their large cheese pizza to arrive.

The co-workers are on their lunch break. The Web site and export business where they work is a stone's throw away, atop the nearby Pizza Bona take-out place. Katona and Turner's boyfriend are roommates.

They all live, work and play in West Park Village.

"My girlfriend is from France and she loves this place," Katona says. "To her, it's like an updated version of Paris."

"We love the parks," Turner says. "My boyfriend and I get up and run every morning."

On the weekends, elderly couples leisurely dance to Sinatra swing music streaming from outdoor speakers.

In the late afternoons, Calypso music cranks up at Catch 23, the classy seafood restaurant across the street.

There's a lifetime supply of caffeine down at Starbucks.

About four years after people started buying into this bold experiment to bring a slice of urban living to suburban Westchase, opinions differ about its impact on lifestyles.

Although few would compare West Park's Linebaugh Avenue to the Champs d'Elyse, many do agree with Katona and Turner on another point: West Park, they say, combines the best elements of city and suburban life.

Still, there are those who complain of noise and overcrowding.

Is West Park Village _ the local knock-off of Disney's Celebration _ really the "next big thing?"

"The Village," as it's called, has been a hot residential commodity since the late 1990s, when people started moving into what sales agents promised would be a new twist on suburban living.

Since then, a burgeoning residential and commercial district sprang up. Terrabrook, the developer, created an urban stew and called it a community, offering single-family homes, townhouses, condos and apartments _ wrapped around a cheeky "town center" of shops.

The development spans the south side of Linebaugh from Montague Street to Sheldon Road and includes 529 single-family homes. A 90-unit condominium section is under construction.

Urban planners are sold on the "neotraditional" concept with its increased density. More homes with smaller yards combat suburban sprawl, while encouraging people to walk more and interact with each other.

Geoffrey Meyer, who lives in Hyde Park and has an architecture firm there, says West Park Village reminds him of home.

"Hyde Park is a model for a lot of these new urbanist communities," said Meyer, after touring the community with Village patriot Ray Chiaramonte, who also sits on the county planning commission. "I'm hopeful that people will remember that this is the best way to live. A place where you don't need a car to get to everything."

Of course developers like neotraditional, too. They get to build more homes per acre.

West Park Village has already generated at least one copycat.

Bill Bishop's Leslie Land Corp. plans to develop a similar, albeit smaller, community at Race Track and Mobley roads.

Bishop envisions 399 homes ranging from large estate to townhome and alley lots. About 120 units will have commercial elements on the ground floor with living space upstairs. He'll call it Highland Park, he says.

Like West Park, it will have garages and carports, alleys and on-street parking.

All this, Bishop says, will fit snugly on 320 acres.

Not everyone is in love with these types of developments. So much closeness can be an adjustment for the peace-and-quiet crowd.

Scroll through the Westchaser Internet message board and you'll find a couple dozen complaints about parking, noise and kids on skateboards, with dire predictions that property values will suffer.

And some outsiders question whether the Village could, or should, be duplicated in their established suburban neighborhoods.

In Town 'N Country, for instance, civic leaders have discussed attracting a commercially driven town center and townhouse community near Westgate Library. The idea came about in discussions about a community plan. But it has more critics than fans so far.

"Why should we do this, so some planner can be in planner heaven?" asked Stan Krick, a longtime Town 'N Country resident. "We're not in the league of Hyde Park and Harbour Island. Would you spend $200,000 for a condo here?"

The townhomes aren't quite that expensive in West Park Village. Along Tate Street, they typically sell for $125,000 to $150,000.

Naysayers aside, a quick review of county property appraiser records shows that resale values continue to climb at the Village.

Renters are welcome, too. Gables Park, an elegant apartment complex, anchors the Village's rental community.

"It's an interesting little community," said Gables development director Scott Doster, who lives in one of the apartments. "Instead of the typical subdivision style of community with entrance gates and that detachment from the neighborhood, the apartments are integrated with the rest of the single-family homes. It provides great demographic diversity."

The first phase at the Gables is 320 apartments, 60 of which are situated above the shops in the town center, much like the style found in big cities. Phases 2 and 3, still under construction, consist of 297 townhouses and apartments and another 76 townhomes respectively. Rents range from about $800 for a one-bedroom flat to $1,600 for a 2,000-square-foot townhome, Doster said.

Phase 1 is 93 percent leased, while Phases 2 and 3 are filling up as they're completed, he said. And with 42,000 square feet of retail space, the Town Center is thriving, too.

Retail stores were in high demand in Westchase, Doster said. "There were 4,500 rooftops in a 2-mile radius with only the Publix shopping center to support them."

Eric Tefler lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the Village, but was eager to own his first home. So he and his family headed north, to a newly minted subdivision in the more cost-efficient Pasco County.

He already misses his piece of paradise in the Village, Tefler said from the van.

"It has an unbelieveable pool, and it's nicely located," he said. "Twenty minutes from the beaches and 20 minutes from downtown. People clean up after their pets. There's always a ton of kids playing on the green. I guess it can be a little pretentious. But it was a really good experience living here."

"I call it Pleasantville," Eric Tefler said from the wheel of a moving van on a recent weekday morning.

Others say they have no plans to leave the Village.

For Marci Schiller, the people are the draw. They seem much like her.

"They came in eyes wide open wanting a sense of community," said Schiller, who used to live in pedestrian-friendly Cambridge, Mass. "(The Village) is a warm place to be."

John Byrne said the Village possesses that unique sense of "new urbanism" that he came to appreciate while living in a suburb of Chicago.

"One of the things that attracted us about even moving to Tampa was discovering West Park Village," said Byrne, who moved to the Village with his wife and triplets last summer. "I don't think that we would have moved to Florida but for West Park Village."

_ Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or mabesptimes.com.