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Homes

Many are hooked on FishHawk

With its excellent schools and abundance of natural beauty, FishHawk Ranch is Hillsborough County's fastest-selling community.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2002


LITHIA -- Postage-stamp back yard?

Forget it.

At FishHawk Ranch, residents are more likely to have thick forests and nature trails at their back door.

It's an idea that people are buying with enthusiasm.

FishHawk Ranch is Hillsborough County's fastest-selling community, and for the second year in a row, it leads Hillsborough County for new-home starts, reports Metrostudy, which tracks building statistics throughout the nation.

The development's 442 starts -- logged in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30 -- also placed it ninth among all Florida communities.

Homes started going up five years ago, and today about 1,200 are occupied.

Situated in Lithia in southeast Hillsborough County, the community takes advantage of the natural beauty of 2,500 acres of unspoiled forests and pastures with homes built around 100-year-old oak trees and 15 miles of nature trails. An additional 10 miles of trails are in the blueprint stage.

The trails are a combination of sidewalks, boardwalks and dirt paths hand-cut through the forest. Mile markers allow hikers, walkers and joggers to keep track of the distance they've covered, and plaques provide information on the native plants and animals. A recent survey suggested that 86 percent of residents considered the trails, which are open to the public, their most valued amenity.

"We have a site that's absolutely magnificent from a natural perspective," says Don Whyte, division president of Newland Communities, FishHawk's developer.

That's what hooked Jenifer and Derek Finger on FishHawk. Jenifer says that 18 months ago she and her family fled the congestion of New Tampa, where they lived for six years, and sought refuge under the oaks.

"You felt like you were in nature," she recalls of her visit to FishHawk Ranch. "It wasn't just bull-dozed and built-up."

Even better, she says, this rustic environment is close to the grocery and drug stores.

When the Fingers first visited FishHawk Ranch, they found a lot in Jaeger Glen village with a 100-year-old oak tree marked off with orange tape.

"We bought the lot because of the tree," Derek says. "They said the tree would be saved."

Sabal Homes built the 3,671-square-foot, $250,000 house around the tree, and even moved it back slightly from its original spot to accommodate the tree's canopy.

Newland's efforts to protect the FishHawk Ranch's intrinsic beauty have been rewarded with more than just sales. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council presented Newland with an award for environmental sensitivity during construction of Osprey Ridge Drive, a main roadway.

During the building process, the developer took extra precautions to preserve environmentally sensitive plants and trees. Traffic lanes were directed around a large section of oaks, creating a heavily treed median, and many other live oaks were transplanted instead of being destroyed during construction of the 2.2-mile road.

Wayne Trezek, who moved from Chicago to FishHawk Ranch in September with his wife and two young children, can step outside his back door and onto one of the community's trails. And he often bikes with his 10-year-old or pushes his 13-month old in her stroller through the woods.

But the enticement of the outdoors was not his No. 1 reason for buying in FishHawk.

It was the schools, among the best in Hillsborough County.

Last year, students at Colleen Lunsford Bevis Elementary School, across the street from the FishHawk Ranch Welcome Center, earned the highest average Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test score among more than 120 elementary schools in the Hillsborough district. Gen. James D. Randall Middle School, also in FishHawk Ranch, was among the county's top five middle schools. Joe E. Newsome High School will be ready for students this fall.

In addition to a trail system and excellent schools, residents at FishHawk Ranch have access to two clubhouses, two heated pools, a water playground, tennis and basketball courts, sports fields, a skate park and stocked fishing ponds. One clubhouse has a 36-seat movie theater that residents can rent for private functions.

FishHawk Connect, the community-wide, password-protected intranet, allows neighbors to talk to each other, post classified ads and coordinate such activities as the baseball league and in-line skate team. Jenifer Finger administers a babysitters club on the intranet.

"It's a very family-oriented place," says Michelle Masinsin, who moved with her family to FishHawk from California six months ago.

She and her neighbors haul their lawn chairs out several evenings a week to sit in the cul-de-sac and watch the kids play.

"We all look out for each other's children," she says.

Future plans call for construction of a retail center.

At build-out, which should be in about 10 years, says Whyte, FishHawk Ranch will have about 5,000 residences. Home buyers can choose from maintenance-free villas and single-family homes priced from the $100,000s to more than $700,000, including site.

Builders include Arthur Rutenberg Homes, Beazer Homes, Cardel Master Builder, Freemarr Homes, Hannah-Bartoletta Homes, Inland Homes, KB Home, MacKay Homes, Morrison Homes, Sabal Homes, Suarez Housing, David Weekley Homes, Westfield Homes and Windward Homes.

For more information about FishHawk Ranch, call the welcome center at (813) 685-7500 or visit fishhawkranch.com.

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