Large Manatee housing projects show signs of life

MANATEE — The slumbering giants among Manatee County’s proposed residential projects are beginning to awaken.

After hibernating during the housing market’s downturn, developers now are cautiously moving ahead on several large projects, county planners said Monday.

“There is an entitlement mentality out there,” said Bob Schmitt, a county planning division manager, using the planning term for development approvals. “They want to get their land entitled, so when the market returns, they can move forward.”

Signs of the renewed activity abound:

n Last week, county commissioners approved preliminary site plans for two projects, one in Parrish and the other in northern Manatee, with more than 2,400 proposed homes.

n The builder of a stalled 2,800-home project in northern Manatee plans to soon start construction of a sales center and several model homes.

n Regional planners recently toured a Parrish-area site as part of their initial review of a potential 3,300-home project on the property.

n The county’s planning commission this week will consider a 562-home subdivision on Moccasin Wallow Road, as well as allowing residential development on several other parcels now zoned for agricultural use.

The activity reflects growing optimism and fear among developers and landowners, said Jack McCabe, an independent real estate analyst and consultant in Deerfield Beach.

“Most of these developers don’t plan on immediately starting construction of new subdivisions but want to get entitlements prior to the vote on Amendment 4,” he said, referring to the proposed state constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require voter approval of local land-use changes. “They also increasingly believe that by the middle to end of next year we will have reached bottom, and we will be on the upswing.”

The heightened activity largely is centered on already-submitted or approved projects that were delayed by the housing slowdown or for other reasons, Schmitt said.

“It’s our understanding in talking with applicants that their lenders are telling them, depending on their funding positions, to just focus on their entitlement projects,” he said.

That includes the two that won preliminary county approval last week. It took four years for Sweetwater Preserve, a proposed 1,719-home development at Interstate 75/Buckeye Road’s northwest corner, to get that approval. Neal Communities submitted plans in 2005 for its 713-home Silverleaf project at Old Tampa and Chin roads.

Developers also are moving on approved projects that were stalled, Schmitt said.

For example, Taylor Woodrow plans to start the first phase of its Artisan Lakes project by constructing some model homes later this year, he said. A previous developer first won approval of the 1,070-acre project at I-75 and Moccasin Wallow Road in 1992.

It now is approved for 2,800 homes and 1.8 million square feet of office and retail space, but a recently launched project website — www.artisanlakes.com — said it would have roughly 1,850 homes. The website also hinted construction of a sales center is imminent.

Calls to Taylor Woodrow representatives were not immediately returned Monday.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council is reviewing a potentially bigger development: Parrish Lakes, which could have as many as 3,300 homes east of Interstate 75 between Erie Road and Moccasin Wallow Road.

The regional agency said its planners visited the site in March. And the county’s advisory planning commission is scheduled to consider a proposed land-use change Thursday to allow that development.

The board also is slated to review four proposed land-use changes to allow greater residential development on more than 485 acres as well as Summer Woods, a 562-home project on the south side of Moccasin Wallow Road about a mile west of U.S. 301.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.