Could some of the most in-demand housing markets be cooling off?
A one-of-a-kind setting on Tampa Bay all but dictates that MiraBay take advantage of the outdoors.
In the mid-1960s, the 750 acres along Tampa Bay that now compose MiraBay were platted and approved for deep-water lots on saltwater canals, a common practice in those days. But the development ran aground, and the canals gradually faded into the marshes until no one even knew they were there. During the intervening 40 years, this type of development fell victim to environmental regulations outlawing canals. Still, nobody convinced the boaters of America to stop dreaming of a home with a dock out back.
Before its recent acquisition by Newland Communities, Terrabrook Communities spotted this gem languishing among assets for sale in 1998 by Atlantic Gulf Communities. David Frame, Newland’s senior vice president of acquisitions, won’t say what Terrabrook paid for the MiraBay site or how much the firm spent to drag it through regulatory compliance. Add to all of that the high cost of extreme environmental features that Newland imposed upon itself to mollify government agencies. But Frame will say it’s all been worth it.
MiraBay has strict architectural controls that require all homes and the clubhouse (bottom) to conform to what Newland calls “old Florida coastal” style, developed for the community by Tampa architectural firm Cooper Johnson Smith. The only exception is one neighborhood of very large custom homes in the Mizner style, the traditional Florida Mediterranean style.
“The value of this deal is that it’s totally unique,” he says. “Nothing like it would ever be approved today, but because it was already platted years ago, we were able to proceed. In a high job-growth market like Tampa, and with baby boomers from the North flocking to Florida looking for retirement destinations, we tapped huge pent-up demand for a boating community of this type. The south shore has never been a high-end market, but those deep-water lots blew that problem away.”
Lot sizes are 60, 70 and 80 feet by 110 feet for production homes and 80x130 and 100x150 for estate homes. Four hundred lots border the 3.5 miles of canals with deep-water connection to the Gulf of Mexico. Another 350 homes will be on a 135-acre freshwater lagoon, with saltwater access via a boat lift capable of handling 35-foot-long crafts.
MiraBay was a home run waiting to happen, but to hit it, Terrabrook/Newland had to negotiate with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and a number of environmental groups that initially opposed the project. Especially vocal were those who feared the boating community would harm southwest Florida’s manatees. The developer leaped through hoops to make MiraBay environmentally friendly.
There’s no room for box-on-box design at Dancing Waters, which requires four-sided architecture from its builders. Laurent Builders, a sister company to the developer, pushed back the second garage (top) to minimize its street presence and varied the exterior cladding, trim and roof lines to give this home its custom character. A hearthless Arts & Crafts-style stone fireplace (above), flanked by built-ins, is a highlight of this Laurent Builders great room.
Tidal-flow regulators, placed strategically in the canal system, augment water circulation. Bio sumps also help clean and move water, while a 1.5-acre salt marsh acts as a fish and wildlife habitat. Newland also will plant more than 500 mangrove trees along the shore to improve the ecosystem.
To protect the slow-moving manatees, the developer installed buoys, channel markers and signage to mark slow-speed zones and the sea-grass beds where the animals feed. A boat slip for the Hillsborough County sheriff’s marine division and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will aid those agencies in patrolling nearby waters. The developer also will intercept and detain runoff from 2,700 acres of adjacent agricultural land before any pollution flows into Tampa Bay.
MiraBay’s centralized sales operation works out of a 6,000-square-foot welcome center near the community entrance and right next to the 10,000-square-foot clubhouse that dominates the lagoon.
“This community is so unique, we feel a builder’s sales staff would not be able to deal with all the questions about boating and environmental issues,” says Brenda Kunkel, vice president of sales/marketing. “Our pricing is high, and we have to sell the benefits of waterfront living before we sell house and lot.”
David Weekley Homes was the first to open models, in June 2003, and already has racked up 62 sales in a product line ranging from 2,495 to 3,394 square feet, priced from $346,990 to $402,990. Morrison Homes, with models open in September, has 49 sales. Its line ranges from 1,891 to 2,521 square feet, with base prices from $278,490 to $358,490.
Nohl Crest Homes opened its model in October and has 12 sales in a line ranging from 3,012 to 4,000 square feet, priced at $419,900 to $542,700. Bayfair Properties opened its 4,123-square-foot Doral model in November and already has five sales.
Westfield Homes, now a division of Standard Pacific Corp., has yet to open models in the “paired villa” duplexes but already has 31 of 128 units sold. They range from 1,518 to 1,966 square feet, priced from $207,900 to $246,900. Sabal Homes also has yet to open models but has 13 sales in a product line ranging from 2,960 to 4,000 square feet, priced from $324,990 to $440,990. Westfield, Sabal and Hannah Bartoletta Homes will open models this spring.
Alvarez Homes has a $2.5 million model under construction, and it’s already sold, along with a custom home priced at $3 million.
“We’re moving as fast as we can to meet the demand, and I have a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface,” Kunkel says. “Second-home buyers are a big target for us, and that selling season is just beginning. This is the first year we’ve had model homes to show during the season. We expect to do very well from here on out.”