EAST MANATEE -- Located on the outskirts of Lakewood Ranch, just west of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, River Club has all the prestige and beauty of the master-planned community -- without the CDD fees.
That's why Linda Duecker and her husband moved to the neighborhood 11 years ago from Durham, N.H.
"We didn't have the CDD fees over here, and we kind of liked being part of this smaller community," said Duecker, 64. "It wasn't as restrictive as Lakewood Ranch."
The retirees built a 2,400-square-foot Arthur Rutenberg home that Duecker says is perfect for two people, with open spaces and no real living room.
River Club's first homes
were built nearly 25 years ago, starting in the north off of State Road 70 and eventually working down to the neighborhood's southernmost point off of Town Center Parkway at Royal Calcutta Place. Today, the neighborhood is completely built out. There are approximately 971 homes and more than 2,000 residents who live in them, mostly year round.
"We're a working community, and we don't have a large number of people here seasonally," said Greg Gallagher, River Club HOA president, adding that there's never more than 15 percent of residents gone at a time.
The neighborhood draws families, who are attracted by a clean, safe neighborhood with Braden River elementary, middle and high school nearby, and retirees, who are lured by sunshine and a four-star golf course.
"A lot of people, even when they get older, still want to be around young people. Most of the residents here seem to feel the same way ... they like the fact that there are kids on bikes. They feel more connected with the community," said Gallagher, who has been HOA president for a year.
The River Club golf and cuntry club, located at 6600 River Club Blvd., features an 18-hole championship golf course, a full-service pro shop, a driving range, a pool, tennis courts and a restaurant, Caddyshak, with panoramic views of the course.
The golf course was built in 1988 by architect Ron Garl, who designed several other Sarasota-Manatee courses including at the Bradenton Country Club, Heritage Oaks Golf and Country Club and The Meadows Country Club.
The Dueckers are golfers but prefer to play at Tatum Ridge Golf Links in Sarasota: "To me, it's more of a golfer-friendly course because I'm not really a good golfer," Linda said. "The River Club has a really long course."
The neighborhood isn't dealing with any glaring issues now, residents say, except for the occasional invasion of wild hogs who tear up lawns looking for food, a problem that many neighborhoods in East Manatee are addressing.
"When you're moving here, you're moving into the wild. The critters were here long before us. And so we have sandhill cranes, we have bobcats, alligators ... We have a lot of things," Gallagher said.
Connie Rhodes swore she would never move to Florida, but nine years ago, she and her husband moved to River Club from Atlanta for the promise of sun and beach.
"We wanted a place where, when our grandchildren came to visit, there was a lot to do in the area. This area has a lot. It's not like its an old folky place like a lot of Florida," she said.
When her 5-year-old grandson comes to visit this weekend, Rhodes, 64, plans to take him to Disney World, Big Cat Habitat and the beach.
The Rhodes bought a 3,100-square-foot, pre-owned home that faces the golf course. They're not golfers, but the privacy was an added bonus.
"When we came, I really had no idea what Florida living would be. We were just thrilled when we found out everybody had these lanais. I always wanted a screened porch," she said.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.