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Pasco trumps Big Apple

Call it sweet. Call it paradise. Call it Florida.

Dawn Novitsky knows she and her family made a choice so right that she never glanced back.

A lifelong New Yorker with a Long Island lilt and Sarah Jessica Parker flair, Novitsky, 40, never thought she'd leave the city where she grew up.

Now Dawn, her husband, George, 35, their three children and her parents live in Seven Oaks, a 3,000-home master-planned development off State Road 56 not far from the Interstate 75 interchange and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Their 4,200-square-foot Mercedes-built home in the Shoregrass Community was completed in January 2005.

They even followed the entire construction process - tweaking, customizing and planning an in-law suite - online from their New York home. But how they actually decided to move to Pasco County, well, that's another story - one with a foundation as solid as their new house.

"I love New York, the boroughs, the neighborhoods, the pizzerias, the shops," Dawn explains. "I was born and raised there. My three sisters live there. But life is better here."

Dawn and George might never have considered Florida. In fact, her father, a retired career corrections officer who worked on Rikers Island, wanted to move to Florida a decade ago.

But Dawn, a diehard Big Apple fan, resisted.

And resisted.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. "My husband and I both worked just blocks from the World Trade Center," she recalls. What happened that day, she explains, became a "huge part" of their decision to move.

"I remember running with my co-workers holding hands. Then boom, boom boom and a ball of white smoke," she says. "We dropped to our knees and prayed. My girlfriend, who was black, was white from the dust. It took me 12 hours to get home to Long Island. George walked out of the city over a bridge."

Then in 2004 came a transfer offer from George's employer, a bank depository company that planned to move 300 employees to the Tampa Bay area. That April, the Novitskys rode a tour bus around Hillsborough County, then rented a car and explored further. They drove into Seven Oaks by accident.

"We were just driving around and ended up on 54," Dawn says. "We felt like we had gone too far when we saw it."

They rolled in, looked at the clubhouse, the mini parks, the pools, the sleek model homes. Then, pretty much right there on the spot, they plunked down a $2,500 deposit on a large lot that looked out over a pretty pond.

"We were amazed at what you got for your money compared to New York," Dawn raves of the community that is now offering single family homes from $300,000 to $900,000.

Sounds like a lot to many priced-out Floridians, but to a New Yorker like Dawn - who once bought a house on Long Island with her parents because she couldn't afford to buy one alone - the prices seemed fair.

More than fair, in fact.

"At first, we were even going to buy two houses," she says.

Two houses?

The Novitskys, who by this time had readily accepted the transfer offer, weren't exactly planning to flip property in Florida's sizzling-hot real estate market. They wanted two houses because they were planning to bring Dawn's parents to Florida to live with them.

They ultimately decided on a spacious, two-story model available from Mercedes Homes.

Upstairs, there's enough room for Dawn's parents - Joan and Richard Basoa - to have their own suite.

"It took some convincing at first - I didn't want to leave my three other daughters - but I'm very happy here. Plus I love all the shopping around here," says Joan Basoa, 63, who has joined the Ladies of Shoregrass, a group of dozens of women who live in the neighborhood and do everything from play Bunco to walk to host potlucks.

Richard Basoa, 72, works out daily at the Seven Oaks health club, recently bought a motorized canoe for fishing and, according to Dawn "is sort of the unofficial mayor of Seven Oaks."

Downstairs, the floor plan offers an ample kitchen (Dawn is an amazing Italian cook) a separate dining area, and room for George's piano and electric guitar collections. A screened pool area provides an ideal hangout for the family's two big dogs, and a sunny great room offers plenty of space for their three children, ages 3 to 12.

And the cozy living arrangement with Dawn's parents worked out in ways they never imagined. Though she left her corporate Wall Street job several years ago, Dawn ended up in business again by accident this past year. The family owns the popular Italian ice parlor, Kups N' Kones, at 24442 SR 54 in Lutz on the Hillsborough County side.

What started as a tentative business venture (their original partner bailed, and Dawn wasn't sure she wanted to take time away from her family) has since boomed thanks to the scads of Italian-ice-loving New Yorkers who have moved to the area.

"Those of us from New York all have a taste for Italian ice," explains Dawn, who says she learned everything she needed to know about starting her own business on

"In the summer, when it gets really hot, Italian ice is what I crave. We've even got the landlord of our building hooked on our green apple flavor," she says. "Our customers are even asking us to open stores in Brandon and New Tampa."

As for their house in Seven Oaks and their move to Pasco County, it was absolutely the right choice for the Novitskys, all passionate New Yorkers with a zest for the tropics.

"Everyone else who was moving here with the company bought in Hillsborough County," Dawn recalls. "But we knew there was something special about Pasco, that it was going to boom. And Seven Oaks was just right. The moment we drove in we knew. I really can't explain it, but we just knew."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at "My House" is an occasional feature about people and homes amid the housing boom of south Pasco.