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Developers turn south to stake fresh turf

Because of builders' efforts, south Hillsborough County could see almost 10,000 homes on its horizon.

Published June 4, 2005

APOLLO BEACH - For years, planners have predicted that south Hillsborough County's farms and cozy neighborhoods would give way to Tampa Bay's next housing explosion.

In the first months of 2005, speculation has changed from when to how fast ?

Nearly 10,000 homes could start rising in south Hillsborough in the next two to three years - and that's just the big projects. The number easily could double as thousands more homes go in along U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 into Ruskin. The region's waterfront access and reasonable commutes to Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota are selling points for builders and home buyers. But only recently has the market boiled over.

A sign of the times: Newland Communities, developer of FishHawk Ranch and MiraBay, recently snapped up 2,200 acres off Interstate 75 for Waterset, a community between Big Bend Road and 19th Avenue NE in Ruskin.

Waterset won't access Tampa Bay. Property on the water is so hot that Newland has plans to dredge canals right across the greens on Apollo Beach's 160-acre golf course. The developer has optioned the land to realize its dreams of a second phase to MiraBay.

Builders large and small are lining up to break ground on Hillsborough's last urban frontier. This summer, GL Homes will break ground on Valencia Lakes, where 2,800 homes will rise at U.S. 301 and County Road 674.

Beazer Homes hopes to break ground by year's end on the 2,050-home community called Belmont, off U.S. 301 south of Big Bend Road. Prices are not certain, but Beazer hopes to start in the mid $100,000s.

* * *

Newland Communities is looking to dominate the market.

The company behind FishHawk Ranch, the Lithia community topping Hillsborough's growth charts in recent years, spent a year negotiating the rights to the property off Interstate 75, east of U.S. 41, for Waterset. The community, which is expected to have about 5,000 homes, will come online as FishHawk Ranch builds out at around 5,000 homes in two years.

The acquisition gives Newland, which also developed Covington Park, a virtual empire in Apollo Beach. Waterset is poised to take all the land south of 1,200-home Covington Park, down to 19th Street. Waterset combines two long-dormant major developments, Southbend and Wolf Creek Branch.

With Waterset, Newland envisions prominent lakes and water elements, playing off the proximity to Tampa Bay.

No prices are set, but Waterset is likely to produce a more moderately priced range than MiraBay, a few miles south on U.S. 41. MiraBay's homes, expected to sell from the $200,000s to $500,000s, have climbed into much more expensive ranges.

Newland expects to finish building MiraBay's 1,750 homes in 2007, two years ahead of schedule. To extend MiraBay's footprint, Newland recently snagged development rights to the adjacent Apollo Beach golf course, which it would convert to waterfront land by digging canals.

Applying for permits could take as long as two to three years, Whyte said. Before proceeding, Newland plans to meet with residents currently living on the golf course to discuss with them the possibility of living alongside man-made canals.

* * *

South Hillsborough's development potential is showing up in gradually rising sales prices.

Between 1999 and 2004, average closing prices for homes built here rose about $60,000 to $192,316, according to Rose Residential Reports, which monitors Tampa Bay's market. Hillsborough's average new home price reached $246,167 last year.

Rising home prices are among the signs that have GL Homes enthused about the future of Valencia Lakes, formerly known as DG Farms. At 1,300 acres, it ranks among the region's largest planned developments. Homes at Valencia Lakes are expected to sell from the $200,000s to the $400,000s, with an anticipated buildout between 2008 and 2010.

GL Homes expects to break ground this summer on the community, geared to 55-plus adults seeking active lifestyles. Valencia Lakes includes two clubhouses and an athletic center.

A version of this story appears in some regional editions of the Times.

[Last modified June 4, 2005, 06:14:28]

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