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Upscale subdivision to bloom

Thurston Groves, rising on top of an old citrus grove, will change the face of Seminole, its builders say.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


SEMINOLE -- A new neighborhood is being born in Seminole -- and it's a nice one.

Half-million-dollar homes with three-car garages, a 6-acre lake with a fountain, a border wall with decorative features and trees of all shapes and sizes are coming to one of the last undeveloped tracts in mid Pinellas County.

Once home to one of the county's largest citrus groves, the 37 acres bordered by 102nd Avenue N, the Pinellas Trail and Old Ridge Road will be the newest large subdivision in Seminole. With vacant land at a premium in Pinellas, Thurston Groves Residential Community is a hot ticket for both builders and home buyers.

"Obviously, we have a shortage of developable land in Pinellas County and those in the construction business are looking to find parcels," said Rodney Fischer, executive director of the Contractors and Builders Association of Pinellas County. "It's not impossible. It's just much more difficult."

That's because places like Thurston Groves, which was annexed into Seminole in June, are a rarity in Pinellas. The orange and grapefruit trees stood for decades as subdivisions sprouted around them.

"That's the only thing that is left there," said Daryl Fischer of Fischer & Sons Contractors, one of the subdivision's five builders. "Everyone was watching to see what was going to happen there."

Margueritte Thurston, the grove's owner until her death at age 92 in 1998, dismissed developers' offers for years. But her heirs were forced to sell the land to pay estate taxes. Gemm Development Corp. paid $3.8-million, or $110,000 an acre, for the property, which no longer was an active citrus grove.

Developer Bruce Hall bought the property from Gemm last month for $5.95-million. Hall said he knows his product is in high demand. "There are a lot of people having to drive to Tampa or Sarasota to buy land because there is nothing left," he said.

Hall said the subdivision, which will be similar to the exclusive Bayou Club near Pinellas Park, will be a major improvement to the surrounding community.

"We're putting in hundreds of trees and bushes to make it a luxurious area," he said, adding that each of the lots is required to have a minimum of 10 trees. "The landscaping will be phenomenal. Air will be cleaner and fresher."

Hall also will make changes outside the property. To prevent traffic backups, Hall must add a turn lane to the section of Old Ridge Road that fronts the subdivision.

County and city officials already are concerned with the amount of traffic in that area. They are expected to make changes to the intersection of Old Ridge Road and 102nd Avenue N to make it safer. A hearing on the matter will be at 7 p.m. Monday at Seminole Community Library.

The main entrance to the neighborhood will be on 102nd Avenue, with a secondary entrance on Old Ridge Road.

The subdivision has 86 lots, with an average lot price of $153,000. The homes will have a minimum of 2,700 square feet and will sell for $350,000 to $800,000. The designs will vary, with no two houses alike within 10 lots in either direction.

Construction should begin in the late spring and continue for another two years until every home in the walled community is occupied.

"We're not interested in having a bunch of vacant lots," said Bea Hebert, a real estate agent who represents Thurston Property Group. "We're interested in building houses."

Hebert said every day she receives about 20 calls about the property. Most callers quickly discover they can't afford the expensive homes, but about three of the 20 turn out to be potential buyers, she said.

Though Hebert said she didn't know whether any of the builders had any confirmed buyers, she said she has no doubt the lots will go fast. Some of the inquiries are from doctors who work at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Hebert said. Many want to stay in the area, but want to move to an upscale neighborhood, she said.

"There is nothing else like it in Seminole," said Gary Catenac, owner of the Arthur Rutenberg franchise in Pinellas County, one of the builders for Thurston Groves. "That on its own makes it a rather unique community."

The subdivision's three other builders are Precision Builders of Pinellas, Mark Maconi Homes and Avalon Homes.

"It's one of the last pieces of land left in Pinellas County and it's in a very important section," said landscape architect Phil Graham, whose St. Petersburg company created the subdivision's design guidelines. "It was incumbent upon us to come up with a remarkably nice design for the subdivision."

A look at the the property's Web site, ThurstonGroves.com, shows renderings of a brick wall with gold columns and a decorative metal fence draped with purple flowers. Along with shrubs and bushes, there will be plenty of trees, Graham said.

"That is going to help give a nice canopy to the subdivision over time," he said. "We've tried to create a real neighborhood in there."

Fischer, who has been building homes in Largo and Seminole since the 1970s, said Thurston Groves has generated a lot of interest because there hasn't been a large-scale development like it in the Seminole area since the early 1990s.

That's when Collins Estates, a 113-home subdivision between Oakhurst Road and Hamlin Boulevard, was built. There have been small developments over the years, Fischer said, but nothing that compares with Thurston Groves.

"We're tickled to death with this," said Bill Vola, Seminole's building official. "With the level of cooperation and communication we're having with the developer, this is going to be smooth as glass. The citizens of Seminole are going to be real proud of this."

- Staff writer Maureen Byrne can be reached at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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