EAST MANATEE -- Jazzy Christmas music poured from inside Debbie Kimball's cozy Mote Ranch home. It was 70 degrees and sunny. She sat barefoot on her enclosed lanai, which overlooks a lake and a nature preserve. Neat stacks of crossword puzzles and books decorated the table beside her.
"I wouldn't go back there if they gave me a free pass," the 85-year-old said.
A Silver Spring, Md., native, Kimball moved to the neighborhood 17 years ago -- and she's never looked back.
"I always said 'I'm never gonna go down there with all those old people.' Then one day you wake up and you're one of those old people. You don't like the ice and snow," she said.
Kimball and her now-deceased husband bought their 1,800-square-foot home for $141,000 in December 1996.
"I love it," she said. "Everybody knows each other and watches out for each other."
Mote Ranch, a deed-restricted community, has no CDD fees -- just a quarterly homeowners association fee of $146. Residents say this is one of the best features of Mote Ranch living.
"You've got all the benefits. It's like an ungated gat
ed community in terms of who your neighbors are, in terms of the people and just what you've got in terms of scenery," said resident Mark Duren, who is also the webmaster of MoteRanch.org.
The community has a large pool with a recently renovated recreation center, a playground and nature trail.
Some homes back up onto the Braden River. There's a kayak and canoe launch with a small dock.
Even though Mote Ranch is located close to University Parkway and all of its shopping glory, the neighborhoods are peaceful, not heavily traveled.
"There's everything you want down here: shopping, eating, opera. You name it, we have it available in this area. There is nothing that's not within three miles that you can't find," said Mote Ranch HOA president Ken Garber.
For the most part, Mote Ranch is a clean, safe place to retire or raise a family. But lately, the community has been victim to some burglaries along with Lakewood Ranch and other developments in East Manatee. There have been six burglaries in the Mote Ranch area since July, according to data from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Mote Ranch is named after the prolific William Mote, who developed Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. It covers 600 acres along Whitfield Avenue and Old Farm Road and next to Palm-Aire. The community's 777 single-family homes are grouped into nine neighborhoods: Arbor Lakes, Arbor Lakes Estates, Chaparral, Copper Ridge, Grand Point, Meadowlake, Misty Lake, Riverbend and River Park.
The community, born in 1988, had numerous builders, but Lennar was the main developer. Meadowlakes was the first neighborhood built; River Park the last.
Nancy Eilerson, a RE/MAX Realtor specializing in the Mote Ranch area, said the market in the community has been very strong. Prices start in the upper $200,000s and can climb as high as the mid-$500,000s.
"It's just north of the University Parkway corridor with the new mall, all of the restaurants and shopping and it's west of (Interstate) 75, so you're not fighting the traffic of Lakewood Ranch," she said.
One of Eilerson's best listings is a 2,400-square-foot home at 7006 Coachlight Street with a secret garden.
"They've built this charming little garden around the pool cage that has sculptures and plantings, a pebble walkway and benches. At night it lights up. Everywhere you turn, there's a little secret area," she said.
The intimate abode is priced at $419,000.
Several times each year, Kimball types a five-page newsletter detailing the latest happenings in Mote Ranch's 30 resident-operated clubs. Kimball has been diligently distributing the newsletter for 16 years -- something she does for fun and for free.
There's a book club and bridge club. Caregivers and cat sitters. Lunch Bunch and Munch Bunch.
"Debbie has really kept the community together with her newsletter," said Marge Carle, leader of the Womens' Bible Study group.
Mote Ranch is not the kind of place where you dodge your neighbors to avoid driveway small talk. Here, neighbors are friends. People to count on for a helping hand.
"I just love what I'm doing, and I really love it here," Kimball smiled.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.