LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When speaking to some of the first residents who moved to Watercrest Condominiums in Lakewood Ranch, the first words they use to describe their ultra-private community on the banks of Lake Uihlein are "a crown jewel."
Among the upscale neighborhoods in Edgewater Village, Watercrest by far, residents say, has the most-picturesque view of the 160-acre lake and the fairways of the Legacy Golf Club's fourth hole.
Built in 2004 by Homes by Towne, a Milwaukee developer that staked its early reputation selling quality homes at affordable prices to returning World War II veterans, Watecrest Condominiums were so in demand there was a lottery to select the first owners.
"I was the first person to move in April 2005 and over half the units were sold by lottery," said Connie McKenzie, who lives with her cat in the very first Watercrest building. "It was all
about the lake and it still is. I thought I would just be here for the duration," said McKenzie, who commended the builder on building a turn-key, low-maintenance condo home.
Good views all around
"No matter what side of the building you live on, from the lake on one side to the nature preserve on the other side, there isn't a bad view anywhere. We pride ourselves on customer service and we stand by our homes," said Robin Germain, a sales agent for Homes by Towne's newest GreyHawk Landing community in East Manatee.
Besides expansive views of the lake, Watercrest has three floor plans ranging from 1,900 to 2,500 square-feet with up to three bedrooms, three bathrooms and two-car garages. The condo homes are housed in 19 buildings, some with 12 units per building and some with six units, depending on the sizes of the layouts. Prices range from $245,000 to more than $400,000.
For Stan Schuer, president of the Watercrest condo board, Lakewood Ranch lives up to every expectation he and his wife had when the couple retired and moved to Florida. Originally a homeowner in Edgewater, Schuer, like Connie McKenzie, was one of the first to purchase via the lottery one of the most luxurious floor plans with a semi-private elevator.
Big demand for Watercrest
"Back in those days, you couldn't walk in and buy a unit. They were so much in demand. This is a very solid building. It's concrete, no wood, and all-metal beams, unlike other buildings around here."
Schuer said he feels extremely secure living in Watercrest since the condos are set off from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and the security is extremely attentive.
"There's security at the front gate with code access. There's security at the front door of the buildings, and the six-plex buildings, where I live, have security on every floor. Unless you have a code, you can't get up the elevator," said Schuer, who was the Watercrest's first board president when the builder released the community to the owners in 2006.
"Our monthly assessment pays for all the common areas. That's a pleasure when my wife and I travel. I don't have to worry about anything and that's a real benefit of condo living," Schuer said during a recent meeting at Watercrest's clubhouse, which features a fully equipped fitness center, heated pool, spa, sitting room and patio where residents and guests can enjoy the serenity of the lake view.
All the common areas of the nearly mile-long community and its amenities are managed by a private, independently-contracted property manager, along with a janitorial and maintenance staff.
"You want to make sure that units don't stay on the market too long. You want people interested in purchasing to come here and live here," said Jeanne Moschella (who is no relation to the reporter).
"Some of the wildlife here is beautiful: Ducks, deer, alligators sunning themselves and a nature preserve faces the front of the condos," she said.
The fourth hole of the Legacy Golf Club and a golf cart path cut through Watercrest and there are 3 miles of walking, jogging and bicycling paths around the lake, which is the centerpiece of Main Street in Lakewood Ranch. Watercrest is within walking distance to the shopping, dining and movie theater on Main Street, in addition to such special events as the Farmer's Market, holiday parades and arts and crafts festivals held year-round on Main Street.
Watercrest, Moschella said, has attracted a number of working professionals, as well as retirees, job transferees, and Canadians wanting to escape the winter. Tenants can rent on a seasonal basis and owners can rent their condos out for one-month periods, but not more frequently than six times per year, according to board policy.
"Watercrest attracts a high-end clientele. There are always more people looking to stay than we can accommodate. Among all the condos in the area, Watercrest is my favorite," said Patrice Ivan of Sarasota-based Jeannette Properties Inc., who rents both furnished and unfurnished units in Watercrest to a variety of tenants.
Possible trouble on horizon
The only drawback to the many positives of Watercrest is a potential zoning change directly across the community on Lake Uihlein behind the cinemas on Main Street. Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. has asked Manatee County for a variance on a parcel of land called University Lakes so builder Homes by Towne can build another condo community over five stories tall, which is the current maximum height restriction.
For McKenzie and other Watercrest residents, this is troubling news.
"I'm waiting with bated breath to see what happens. It will change the whole complexion of Lakewood Ranch and I'm worried about changing the precedence for future development," she said.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.