tampabay.com

Newland buys Hutto property

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published May 26, 2007


LITHIA -- One of the largest and most controversial housing developments planned for southeastern Hillsborough County has new owners and a new name.

Newland Communities paid $50-million to buy the Lake Hutto project from Pulte Homes this week, county records show. Newland announced its purchase of the 1, 129-acre property Friday.

The deal also requires Newland to pay for about $75-million in infrastructure work, including $72-million in road improvements and a $3-million addition to Newsome High School. The company also will provide 52 acres of land for schools, a park and a sports complex expansion.

The sale could signal a significant shift for the 3, 200-home planned community, which drew strident opposition from some neighbors.

Detailed plans for the project don't exist yet, Newland regional president Don Whyte said. One thing is certain: The developers won't consider building more than 3, 200 homes, and they might build fewer.

Newland officials said Friday they planned to redesign the community, and fast.

Crews will break ground on the project in late 2008, Whyte said.

Newland hand-delivered $500, 000 for the expansion of Newsome High to Hillsborough County schools officials Friday.

And the first "community envisioning" meeting with FishHawk Ranch residents was held Friday evening, just a few hours after the announcement.

The revised project could include more villas, moderately priced housing and rental units, Whyte said. Plans also allow for 360, 000 square feet of retail and office space. Zoning changes approved by the state and county in December will stay intact.

Developers will give the project a new name this fall. For now, they're calling it FishHawk West.

A representative from Pulte could not be reached for comment.

Pulte officials contacted Newland several months ago, and said they would be willing to sell, Whyte said. Buying the project made sense, he said, particularly given its proximity to Newland's existing 4, 600-home FishHawk Ranch.

"This is land that we had our eyes on for quite some time, " he said.

David Kulow, a Boyette Springs resident who joined 18 other area residents in a lawsuit against the Lake Hutto plan earlier this year, said Friday that he was surprised and happy to learn of the sale.

"Newland builds community. Pulte builds houses, " he said. "If you take a look at FishHawk Ranch, it is beautifully developed."

Kulow, a 71-year-old retired Air Force officer, said he hopes the developer will follow suit with its latest acquisition.

This week's sale strengthened Newland's position as one of the largest players in Hillsborough County's housing market.

The developer, based in San Diego, also created and built MiraBay and Covington Park in Apollo Beach. Crews will start building homes in Newland's 4, 500-unit Waterset community in Apollo Beach this fall.

Even with a slow housing market, Whyte said Newland's interest in Florida real estate remains strong.

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 813 661-2454.

If you go

Lake Hutto project

Newland Communities will hold a community meeting for residents to discuss its acquisition of the Lake Hutto project at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Palmetto Club, 17004 Dorman Road, Lithia.

For more information about the project, go to www.fishhawkwest.com.