LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When Katy Silberstein moved to The Lake Club last year, neighbors came over to welcome her with sugar-free pastries they baked, knowing she was diabetic. Her neighbor Sue dropped off a homemade card and a list of all the events and social gatherings coming up in the neighborhood.
That's the kind of hospitality you can expect when buying a home in The Lake Club.
People here embrace the old-school notion of knowing your neighbors, inviting them over for coffee on any given morning. So don't even think about rolling out of bed in crummy PJs to get the newspaper. Joanne across the street is bound to come over and talk.
"I learned very quickly that as soon your feet touch the floor in the morning, quickly get dressed, because there are so many people out and about," said Silberstein, 57. "Everybody has to stop and chat and say hello."
There are many qualities that might make The Lake Club the most unique neighborhood in Lakewood Ranch. The picturesque views, the million-dollar mansions, the fully loaded clubhouse, the vineyard. But the friendliness of the people is what stuns most residents.
"Everybody's so tight-knit, and it's because we're all in the same boat," Silberstein said. "We all come down here. We don't know
a soul. It's a scary proposition, but we want to start a new life and enjoy it down here, so everybody is gravitating to each other and reaching out. Everybody has the same needs: friendship and fun."
The Silbersteins built their 4,000-square-foot John Cannon home with single-floor living and a water view in mind. They wanted a home completely different than the one they had in Boston.
"Every time we would drive through the gates, she would beam," Myles Silberstein, 57, said of his wife's reaction when first moving to the Lake Club.
And rightly so.
At the community's iron gates, residents and guests are greeted by a postcard-perfect plain inspired by the Italian countryside. The lush landscape includes leafy trees, emerald palms and flowers of all colors.
At the center is a 20,000-square-foot, multi-level clubhouse equipped with a pool, fitness center and indoor and outdoor dining areas overlooking the community's Mediterranean-style palatial homes. There's a one-acre vineyard that grows red and white grapes for a neighborhood grape stomping that the kids look forward to every year. The grapes are shipped to East Manatee's Rosa Fiorelli Winery to make into red and white wine with an exclusive Lake Club label.
Home sales in the community have been steady. Nearly 150 homes are occupied in the first two phases of the community. which are built out. Three more phases are planned, but exactly when they will be finished is hard to say, said Jimmy Stewart, vice president of sales for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the neighborhood's developer.
"The market takes us where we go," Stewart said.
The Lake Club's center section contains five lot sizes, with some of the largest homes reaching 10,000 square feet. Another section, Matera, has all maintenence-free London Bay homes. The last area, The Vineyards, has homes ranging from 3,200 to 3,500 square feet with an average price tag of $1.1 million.
Between buying the lot and building the home, potential buyers can expect to spend around $1 million to live in The Lake Club, Stewart said.
Sue Lelli's 5,400-square-foot Todd Johnston home is awash in decor she and her husband gathered from the Caribbean, their favorite place. There's a plethora of paintings, vases full of shells and sea glass. In one part of the home, a bookcase contains nearly 20 photo albums full of memories from the 75 trips the Lellis have taken to the islands. They'll take their 76th in June.
Sue and her husband Kim, former chief financial officer for Hospital Corp. of America, bought a lot in the Caribbean but decided to move to Florida to retire instead. After all, they would be closer to health care, and their paradise was only a plane ride away.
"We wanted to be within an hour of a major airport, but we didn't want to live in a big city. We wanted a planned community, but we don't play golf," said Sue Lelli, 56. "We had no idea how nice the neighborhood was going to be, how we were going to have all kinds of friends. We just thought we were going to live here and then travel, and it just kind of morphed into something totally different."
Good social buzz
Lelli is head of The Lake Club's social committee, but she says planning neighborhood events is a group effort among residents.
The neighborhood offers a range of clubs, so every resident can find his or her niche. Every month, a group gets together for lunch at MacAllisters Grill & Tavern and then a movie at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas. There's a book club, a bunco club and a golf club, to name a few. And then there's the glitzy neighborhood parties, like March's Party in Paradise, where residents noshed on Caribbean-style food and drinks and sounds of steel drums spilled from the clubhouse late into the night.
"Everybody here is at a point in their life where they want to be happy, where they want to do things," Lelli said. "Some people might think the people who live in here are pretentious, but it is so the opposite. Everyone is welcoming."
Lelli is always on the lookout for new neighbors. She has a special room in her home -- mostly decorated in pink -- where she makes her own elaborately decorated greeting cards. She always has some ready for new residents.
"If you want to be friends with your neighbors, you can have 15 friends immediately," she said. "If you want to have friends, this is it."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.