Bradenton’s Ballard Park has an ‘Old Florida feel.’ These new homes will match it

A handful of vacant lots may soon serve as the base for modular homes in the Ballard Park neighborhood.

In a proposal to buy and develop those lots, a local developer argued that he has the interest and the skill to redevelop an area that the city of Bradenton has struggled with for years. Officials are incentivizing the deal by offering expedited permitting and impact fee credits.

“I’m not doing this project because I have to do it. I’m doing this because I want to do it. I live in Bradenton. I think Bradenton needs a shot in the arm like this and I think having eight homes that are consistent in architecture in one spot is critical,” said Jeff Hamilton, who began discussing the land sale with city officials in May.

“If you piecemeal these lots out to different people, you won’t get that. It will be all random and it will look like it, so I think it’s a good opportunity,” he added.

The vacant sites are situated near Wares Creek, along Eighth Avenue West and 17th Street Court West. To develop the eight lots in question, Hamilton says he will work with Affinity Building Systems, a Lakeland, Ga.-based company that specializes in constructing homes off-site and delivering them as prefabs.

On Wednesday morning, Dan Gruszka showed off his company’s product in a presentation to city council members. Right off the bat, he cleared up any misconceptions regarding what a modular home is.

“Most people hear modular and think of a double-wide mobile home,” he explained. “It’s not really a type of home. It’s a method of construction.”

According to Gruszka, the homes are built in a controlled environment and can be delivered to the lot for connection in 20 business days, while still being inspected by several different entities.

“This section of Wares Creek has an ‘Old Florida’ feel and I want to (emphasize) that in the new homes to be constructed,” Hamilton wrote to the city in his letter of interest response.

Gruszka’s demonstration included photos and renderings of the modular homes, which seemed to impress council members. Many of the designs incorporated large porches, lifted elevations and other elements that match the existing neighborhood.

“I really feel — looking at these homes — that they’re definitely going to sell,” said Councilman Gene Gallo.

“They’re brand new homes, close to downtown, near the water — they’re going to sell,” Councilman Patrick Roff said.

Bradenton City Council members are moving forward with a plan to develop eight vacant lots in the Ballard Park neighborhood along Eighth Avenue West and 17th St. Ct. W. along Wares Creek. According to the proposed buyer, the homes will be modular and match the existing “Old Florida feel.” Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

The conditions of the land sale agreement, however, gave Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. some pause. Hamilton offered to first develop two of the lots that aren’t on the waterfront. If those sell, he would move along with the other six lots. If he can’t sell those two homes, he could back out of the agreement and the city would still own the vacant lots.

“My main concern is that this is a contract with the city, and I can’t stand to look at contracts that are hypothetical,” Byrd explained.

Roff, who represents the proposed development area, argued that the provision would still allow city officials to go back to the drawing board with an enticing package for the next developer. Hamilton highlighted his recent efforts in the same neighborhood, where he has led the development of two other vacant lots on Virginia Drive.

City council members voted unanimously to order the city attorney to draft a proposed contract and development agreement. Hamilton plans to pay a total of $380,000 for the eight lots. The homes are expected to sell in the upper $200,000 or $300,000 range.

“What many of our neighborhoods need is a master developer to go in and really take some ownership and some creativity, and take advantage of that opportunity. That gives us some consistency, some predictability and somebody we’re working with on a regular basis,” said Mayor Wayne Poston.

“I hope it’s the spark for a bunch of other stuff. That’s really my goal,” Hamilton said.

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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