During the course of his long career, developer Pat Neal has built more than 13,000 homes in Southwest Florida.
But the 5,842 homes he’s planning north of Parrish with his son, John Neal, would be the granddaddy of them all.
The Neals already have approvals to build about 2,000 homes for the Villages of Amazon South as well as a new property on the Fort Hamer Road extension.
“They will all be incorporated into a new community currently of about 5,842 homes at our North River Ranch,” Pat Neal said in an email to the Bradenton Herald.
“If approved, we plan to break ground in the new section of North River Ranch now called Haval Farms by summer 2019,” Neal said.
North River Ranch is part of a surge of development north of the Manatee River expected to bring more than 23,000 new homes to the area in the near future, affecting everything from traffic, to the classroom, and more.
Permitting for Haval Farms, planned for 3,842 homes and 82,000 square feet of commercial space on 1,280 acres, is working its way through Manatee County Government.
Ground already has been broken on a portion of North River Ranch, including the Amazon South property.
North River Ranch is located one-half mile south of Buckeye Road and borders U.S. 301 on the east side.
“We have broken ground and have sales (and closed title) to DR Horton, DR Horton Express, DR Horton Freedom, and two other public builders,” Neal said.
DR Horton has started land clearing and has a billboard on U.S. 301 advertising that new homes are coming soon to its Bella Lago neighborhood.
Sewer, streets, water and drainage are about 70 percent complete to a point about 1.5 miles north of Moccasin Wallow Road.
“This is the biggest property that John Neal and I have created. North River Ranch will be gorgeous, have the Neal attention to detail, physical beauty, landscaping, place-making and a beautiful physical environment,” Neal said.
“We intend to emphasize family life in this community, It has a great location, two new schools underway (North River High and Elementary School AA) and the possibility of a new middle school and other place-making amenities,” he said.
Consequences for Parrish
All of the growth coming to Parrish has not escaped the attention of long-time Parrish residents who worry about the future of the historic village.
“We don’t want to be forgotten and left as a blighted area,” said Alan Jones of the Parrish Civic Association. “All these new planned developments are coming in and we don’t want to be pushed aside. We don’t want a mishmash of cul-de-sacs and gated communities.”
Jones knows there is no stopping development, and says that Parrish residents themselves and county officials need to step up to ensure the 150-year-old village evolves progressively.
“There are a lot of things that need to be done in Parrish to have a sustainable, walkable community. The county needs to understand all the impacts to this village,” Jones said.
In essence, Parrish residents may have handicapped themselves by designing an overly restrictive overlay district years ago that discouraged developers from coming into the village and contributing amenities, Jones said.
An often-heard complaint in Parrish is the shortage of sit-down restaurants.
“All the things we need in our community, we don’t have. Even to the simple point of getting your hair cut,” Jones said.
An example of what Parrish could aspire to is Southside Village in Sarasota, home to Morton’s Market, and a clutch of attractive restaurants.
“Why can’t we be that?” Jones said.
A walkable, sustainable community
Gretchen Fowler, president of the Parrish Civic Association, says that infrastructure improvements such as the extension of sewer lines through Parrish and the planned Fort Hamer Road extension that are enabling growth can also benefit the traditional village center.
Fowler would like to see a central park developed in Parrish away from the six-lane U.S. 301 and closer to Erie Road and the Fort Hamer Road extension.
“You can’t have a walkable community on a six-lane road. We have identified a piece of property off the Fort Hamer Road extension for a park,” she said.
The proposed central park could help shift the village center to the west of U.S. 301, closer to the new high school off Erie Road, elementary school, State College of Florida campus, and the Fort Hamer Road extension.
“Development is happening really fast. We want to save some of the Parrish feel people are moving to the area for,” Fowler said.
Why all the growth?
Neal says the trigger for moving forward with North River Ranch is a huge immediate demand in north Manatee County for families and adults with moderate incomes.
The property is 37 miles from downtown Tampa, 21 miles from downtown St. Petersburg, 18 miles from downtown Bradenton and 28 miles from downtown Sarasota.
“The location accommodates families where mom and dad work in different places. Downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Bradenton, for example,” Neal said. “The other development motivator has been the new schools.”
Also factoring is the new Fort Hamer Bridge. North River Ranch would be the closest moderately priced residential community to Lakewood Ranch and its 14,000 jobs.
New homes built in North River Ranch will start below $200,000, Neal said.
Planned for North River Ranch are paired patio homes, townhomes, single-family homes for adults, and single-family homes for families.
The Fort Hamer Road extension eventually will bisect North River Ranch, with the Neals extending the road north of Moccasin Wallow Road.
Sia Mollanazar, Manatee County’s deputy director of public works, says that portion of Fort Hamer Road could be completed in 18 months.
The northern portion of the Fort Hamer Road extension will be completed before the southern connection to U.S. 301, where right-of-way acquisition is still underway.
The extension of Fort Hamer Road took on new urgency with the announcement that three school campuses are coming to Erie Road.
Construction is expected to start on the Fort Hamer Road extension to serve the campuses within the next six months, Mollanazar said. A roundabout will be built at the entrances of the SCF campus and the two public schools.
Currently, the Parrish Fire District has only one firehouse to serve a 97-mile-square area. Officials say a second station will be essential to provide adequate protection to the North River Ranch area.
“Growth is coming. Developments are coming up all over the area. What can we do to work with it?” Fowler asks.