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Home sweet flooded home

It's a lot like any other coastal community in Florida. Its pricier homes boast breathtaking views. Its residents own boats.

But there's something about Shore Acres, a tropical Old Northeast neighborhood with modest cottages and expansive waterfront haciendas.

It's got a rep it just can't shake.

Shore Acres isn't New Orleans, however in this part of Florida, which in recent years has dodged a direct hit from a hurricane but has endured rough residual rains and winds - everyone around town just knows.

Come storm or occasional tide higher than 3 feet above sea level:

Shore Acres will flood.

Built on the city's lowest-lying land, Shore Acres is its most flood-prone neighborhood. A decade ago, this tendency helped land St. Petersburg on a national list of the 20 areas highest in repeat flood insurance claims.

Over the past 12 years, the city has poured more money into Shore Acres for flood control projects than any other neighborhood, more than $6.1-million, said Mike Conners, the city's administrator of internal services.

The efforts have all but eliminated routine flooding from high tides. But nothing can prevent the flooding from storms, Conners said.

Except maybe a levee, an idea proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1989 but soundly rejected by waterfront homeowners.

Ask longtime residents today what defines Shore Acres, and most say people move to the neighborhood because of its tropical feel, its nice neighbors, its clean, quiet streets.

Now, after years of stable ownership, some streets are changing.

All along flood-prone stretches, "For Sale" signs dot the front lawns. Next door to some, multimillion-dollar houses are being built.

With the past two hurricane seasons, it's gotten a bit tougher to sell in Shore Acres, real estate agents said.

Many residents and real estate agents alike blame the neighborhood's persistent flood reputation.

"It's like a knee-jerk reaction, it's a stereotype," said Mozelle Bell, 79. "It just makes us kind of mad."

Rebranding didn't work.

Bell grew so tired of her neighborhood's reputation that in 1997, she proposed a name change.

"I wonder how much it would cost to change our name to Shore Island?" Bell wrote in a letter to the neighborhood association.

But such a change turned out to be costly and complicated, requiring replatting and changing everyone's legal description, for starters.

The idea quickly fizzled.

Bell "fell in love" with Shore Acres in 1972. When she told her real estate agent, Bell said her reply was, "I have to warn you about the flooding."

Bell shrugged off the warning and said her lakefront Dover Street NE home of 30 years has never flooded,

The real estate agent who sold them their house, Mary Hochadel, 77, is a longtime Shore Acres resident.

"I don't consider the flooding that drastic," she said. But she recalls the "really bad flooding" she witnessed in 1972, during Hurricane Agnes.

It brought tides up to six feet higher than normal. Three years later, the city commissioned its first storm drainage study of Shore Acres.

In the two decades that followed, it would spend nearly $400,000 on studies exploring how to fix a problem that began when homes began cropping up there in the 1950s.

"All of the development was done in the absence of the regulations we see today regarding construction on a flood plain," Conners said. "There was a lack of proper consideration."

The low-lying land on which Shore Acres sits also slopes, said Bob Weisberg, an oceanography professor at the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science.

"You realistically have to raise all of Shore Acres to prevent most of the flooding from occurring," he said. Or, the city could build an enclosed levy around it and pump water out, Weisberg said, "then you change the name of the town to New Orleans."

A 1989 federal study by the Army Corps suggested raising the seawalls at an estimated cost of $5.9-million to $18.3-million, or building an earthen dam levee in the Tampa Bay.

Residents objected, saying it would ruin their views and property values. And the city found flood control projects would be more cost-effective.

The Army Corps admitted recently that it botched planning and construction of the levees in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina's storm surge in August overwhelmed the levees, killing more than 1,300 people.

No one is saying Shore Acres lives under the same threat New Orleans endured. Much of it sits below sea level, while Shore Acres is above, though "barely so," Weisberg said.

"When the sea level rises, Shore Acres is going to flood and there's nothing you can do about it," he said.

An array of fixes

Conners, the city's administrator of internal services, has been working to ease the flooding problems longer than he's lived in Shore Acres.

He moved to the neighborhood with his family 10 years ago. In 1994, the city launched projects to alleviate flooding during routine high tides.

About $1.7-million has been spent since 1995 to raise stretches of Bayou Grande Boulevard and to install bigger drainage pipes, Conners said.

"That alone has prevented about 50 to 60 high-tide events per year from backing up into the streets," he said.

In 2001, about $4.1-million was spent to replace a master storm drainage system and to raise roads.

By 2009, the city will finish installing a new system to prevent tide waters from backing up into streets.

Before the flood control projects, "even on sunny days, residents had to worry about flooding because the high tides would make saltwater flood the streets," Conners said.

In 1996, many of the 3,000 homeowners in Shore Acres were flooded in Tropical Storm Josephine. More than $17.5-million in flood insurance claims were paid to residents.

After the storm season of 2004, just under $2-million in flood insurance claims were paid to residents.

The city's efforts have allayed the concerns of developers interested in Shore Acres, said real estate agent Rhonda Sanderford of YES-Homes, Keller Williams Gulf Coast Realty.

"Now people are comfortable spending $3-million on a spec house out there," she said.

It's true, Shore Acres "has a reputation for flooding," Sanderford said. But most people understand that "if you want to live on the water, you always face the threat of hurricanes and flooding," she said.

Still, it's getting tougher to sell homes quickly in Shore Acres, said Kevin Cottrill, a real estate agent with Hofacker & Associates.

"A lot of people are saying, 'I'll look anywhere but Shore Acres,'" Cottrill said. "The first thing I'll ask of a house is, 'Has it been flooded?'"

Driving down a street like Bayshore Boulevard, where "For Sale" signs dot yards, it's easy to assume that people are eager to move out of Shore Acres.

But it's the same scene all around town, Cottrill said, where real estate inventories are higher than they have been in several years.

"A lot of people are selling now because they think they might have missed boat on turning a profit," he said. "It's cyclical."

To move or stay

During Tropical Storm Alberto in June, Shore Acres lived up to expectations.

Intersections flooded and water surged on Shore Acres Boulevard NE, creeping halfway up some driveways.

But Rachel Ryan's home stayed dry.

It has an elevated driveway, and the 14-year-old said her family has a storm-prep routine down pat.

"We raise the boat," she said. "Anything fiber glass, like chairs and tables, we throw in the pool."

Flooding isn't a big deal, Ryan said. "I've lived here my entire life," she said. "Living anywhere new would be torturous."

But others grow weary, after enduring storm after storm.

Donna Mooren, 50, has thought about moving, but knows she'd miss living in Shore Acres.

Still, she's lost five cars to rusting from saltwater tides, and racked up tens of thousands in storm damage.

Since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Mooren said she sees things in a different light.

Despite a sunnier outlook, she was happy to be gone during Alberto.

"I wasn't here to worry," Mooren said. "That was nice."

FLOOD CONTROL

Over the past 12 years, the city has poured more money into Shore Acres for flood control projects than any other neighborhood: more than $6.1-million. The efforts have all but eliminated routine flooding from high tides.

1994 - 10 stormwater controls south of Connecticut Avenue NE. Cost: $180,000.

1995 - Bayou Grande Boulevard, from Dover Street to Venetian Place, raised 6 to 8 inches with larger drainage pipes. Cost: $500,000.

1995 - Nebraska Avenue from Bayou Grande Boulevard to Chancellor Street, raised 4 to 6 inches with new drainage outfalls. Cost: $130,000.

2000 - Bayou Grande Boulevard from Venetian Place to 62nd Avenue NE, raised 6 to 8 inches. Cost: $1.2-million.

2001 - Delaware, Helena and Arizona avenues raised 6 to 8 inches; master storm drainage system replaced. Cost: $4.1-million.

2001 - Modification of stormwater controls in lowest-lying areas. Cost: $50,000.

By 2009 - About 15 additional stormwater controls to be installed. Estimated cost: $100,000.

Source: City of St. Petersburg

FLOOD INSURANCE CLAIMS

In 1996, many of the 3,000 homeowners in Shore Acres were flooded in Tropical Storm Josephine, and St. Petersburg landed on a national list of the 20 areas highest in repeat flood insurance claims.

Since then, the numbers have dropped significantly.

SHORE ACRES' beginnings

Shore Acres was an area of pine woods, marsh and palmetto. The earliest plat map was filed March 1923. In 1925, Shore Acres Properties Inc. platted the overlook section with streets named after states. Nathaniel J. Upham, a developer from Duluth, Minn., began to sell tracts of land in the 1950s. The first large-scale development was 350 homes around Butterfly Lake followed by Waterfront Estates, Venetian Isles and Ponderosa Shores.

SOURCE: City of St. Petersburg

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