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Developer scoops up pile of Lennar's acreage

A Tampa company grabs 8,300 home sites from financially strapped Lennar Corp.

By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2007


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TAMPA - A Tampa developer made the biggest land gain in its five-year history Friday, scooping up 8,300 home sites in seven counties from financially troubled Lennar Corp.

Nearly half of Metro Development Group's purchase is in Pasco, where Lennar was poised Tuesday to secure final county approval for its 1,700-acre Epperson Ranch project. That decision is now on hold, Metro's attorney said.

Lennar's apparent fire sale is the latest domino to fall for what once was the top builder in the Tampa Bay area.

On Friday, the same day it closed the Metro purchase, Lennar sold 11,000 home sites in a $525-million deal with the real estate arm of Morgan Stanley, for 40 cents on the dollar.

The Miami-based company lost $514-million in the third quarter this year on top of a net loss of $214-million in the second quarter.

On the other hand, Friday's 3,600-acre purchase dramatically raises Metro's profile in the Tampa Bay area.

The Lennar deal bumped up Metro's portfolio by nearly 40 percent. Metro now has more than 30,000 home sites under its control.

Metro officials wouldn't disclose the sale price of its purchase, but spokesman Rob Ahrens said Lennar was driven to liquidate its holdings amid the residential market slowdown.

Lennar vice president Ken Wagner did not return a call Tuesday.

Another Metro spokesman said Tuesday it's still unclear if buyers have already reserved any of the home sites, which includes Waterleaf, a 140-acre development in Riverview. "Right now, we're still trying to digest a rather large meal," John Heagney said.

If Epperson Ranch in Pasco is any indication, Metro may try to redraw some of the projects.

Rather than finish up Lennar's four-year effort to secure the final approval for the 3,900-home Wesley Chapel development, which was scheduled at the Pasco County Commission on Tuesday, Metro told its attorney to ask for a postponement.

"Metro's doing their due diligence on it right now, and need to look at everything," Shelly May Johnson said.

She said Metro is expected to come up with a better idea on what it intends to do in 60 days.

Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at 813 909-4613 or cyap@sptimes.com.

What's in Metro's shopping bag?

Pasco County: Epperson Ranch, 3,905 home sites on 1,700 acres

Hillsborough County: Waterleaf, 530 home sites on 140 acres

Polk County: Leomas Landing, 393 home sites on 94 acres

Lee County: Stoneybrook North, 1,275 home sites on 741 acres

DeSoto County: Stoneybrook Oaks, 1,249 home sites on 641 acres

Brevard County: Chaparral, 850 home sites on 246 acres

Sarasota County: Hidden Palms, 98 home sites on 41 acres

[Last modified December 4, 2007, 22:45:48]


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