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Hernando Oaks nears a milestone

Once the new development's roads are certified by the county, home construction can begin in earnest.

By DAN DeWITT
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003


BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando Oaks, a development that lay dormant for two years after its approval in 1999, has seen a flurry of activity in the past 18 months.

And now, after building roads, a golf course and working on model homes, the developer is almost ready to bring in the home building crews.

"I guess we'll get our certification in the next few weeks," said Ronnie Dunston of Destin, the project's developer.

Dunston expects the marketing effort to accelerate in March, when Hernando Oaks will be featured in the county's annual Parade of Homes, sponsored by the Hernando Builders Association.

The opening of the development at the northwest corner of U.S. 41 and Powell Road, south of Brooksville, is significant for several reasons.

The 975-unit development, which also includes commercial elements, is the first major development to open in the county since Silverthorn nearly a decade ago. It is at the forefront of a wave of development expected to follow the Suncoast Parkway, which opened to traffic in 2001.

Also, unlike virtually all of the large subdivisions built in Hernando in the past, it is near Brooksville. The city has no plans to annex the project, as it hopes to do with the even larger Southern Plantation development on the other side of U.S. 41. But Hernando Oaks will contribute to the growth of the area around the city.

When builders are ready to sell homes -- and Dunston said the development lacks only county certification of its roads before home construction begins in earnest -- there should be no shortage of buyers.

Dunston said he has placed advertisements in local newspapers and a national golfing magazine, and has received more than 1,400 responses.

"The traffic is very heavy in this area for some reason, probably because the access is very good," he said, referring to the parkway and the recently widened U.S. 41.

The project was delayed for several reasons, Dunston and others said: the generally sluggish housing market in 1999 and 2000, a wait for natural gas lines to be extended to the property, and a search for reputable builders that wanted to market homes in Hernando Oaks.

Four builders have bought all 192 lots in the first phase of the project, Dunston said.

A drive through the project shows that much has been accomplished and that quite a bit still needs to be done.

The main road, Grand Entrada Boulevard, is mostly finished, with a couple of deep ruts that will be filled with brick crosswalks. The golf course, though flooded in parts, offers bright green fairways rimmed by tall, straight pine trees. Several model homes are near completion.

But the road is also littered with construction debris, and the project is not nearly as attractive now as it will be at completion. The next step will be building an entrance, which will include a 30-foot tower, and landscaping the main road.

The developer will also install a temporary clubhouse so the golf course can open in the spring. Tennis courts, a swimming pool and a fitness center will be ready about a year later. A permanent clubhouse is expected to open in the spring of 2005, said Bonnie Nebel, an agent with Palmwood Builders, which has bought 72 lots in the development.

Palmwood's houses will range in price from about $150,000 to $300,000 and will be between 1,500 and 3,000 square feet, she said.

The overall trend will be similar to other recent developments in Pasco County and Tampa: large, expensive houses on relatively small lots.

Dunston said all of the lots are at least 120 feet deep. The smallest are 50 feet wide and the largest 90 feet.

-- Dan DeWitt covers the city of Brooksville, politics and the environment. He can be reached at 754-6116. Send e-mail to dewitt@sptimes.com .

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