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Serenoa, Florida - Deal could bring second new town to eastern Collier County, Florida

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Just south of Immokalee - wouldn't that be interesting?

Deal could bring second new town to eastern Collier

By GINA EDWARDS, gvedwards@naplesnews.com October 2, 2005

Ave Maria might not be the only new town taking shape in eastern Collier County.

A national builder is working on a deal to secure as many as 4,400 acres — an area roughly half the size of the city of Naples — outside of Immokalee to develop a town on land north of Ave Maria University and its planned surrounding town, sources familiar with the deal say.

When and if such a deal comes together, U.S. Home could potentially develop a 2,000-acre town on what's known as the Serenoa property, which is owned by an Illinois-based land trust. Such a town could accommodate up to 8,000 homes and 16,000 people or more. Ave Maria plans to have 11,000 homes and 24,000 residents.

Marshall Ames, a spokesman for Miami-based Lennar Corp., the publicly traded parent company of U.S. Home, said the company wouldn't comment about whether such a deal is in the works. But sources familiar with the deal say its principals have been working on it for more than six months. The trustee for the property, Stuart Meacham, of Champaign, Ill., also declined comment.

Under Collier's rural lands growth plan, U.S. Home would need as many as 16,000 development credits to develop 2,000 acres. The county's rural lands stewardship program allows landowners to voluntarily give up development rights in exchange for credits which can be sold to developers who want to build on less environmentally sensitive lands in rural eastern Collier County.

Just how fast development will march east in Collier remains to be seen, but county demographers estimate that as many as 500,000 people could eventually live east of Collier Boulevard, with more than 390,000 of those living in the county's rural lands east of Golden Gate Estates.

"It's really the last development frontier in the county," said Kris VanLengen, a senior planner with Collier County government.

But the type of development that could occur at Serenoa, the farm and ranch that takes its name from the scientific description of the saw palmetto, is development that has the blessing of environmentalists. Environmentalists had a seat at the table in crafting the rural lands stewardship plan, which the county adopted in 2002.

"This is the type of development that is envisioned under the rural stewardship program," said Nancy Payton, a field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation. "This means there are many more acres of important habitat being protected."

Under the rural stewardship plan, towns must have central water and sewer service, parks and 35 percent open space and include grocery stores and other retail shops to make the town self-sufficient.

A move by Lennar to secure land in eastern Collier at Serenoa could be a counter move to one of its national competitors, Pulte Homes.

Pulte Homes signed the lucrative contract to be the primary residential developer of the town of Ave Maria, a multiyear deal industry analysts estimate to be worth $3 billion.

Construction on the first phase of residential housing at Ave Maria is planned to begin in mid-2006 with completion planned in mid-2007, ahead of the fall 2007 opening for the Ave Maria University campus. The community is expected to reach build-out in 2017.

On Monday, Lennar announced record profits for the third quarter. Lennar, whose shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol LEN, announced third quarter profits of $337.3 million, a 50 percent increase from the same time last year. The company reported delivering 10,503 homes during the quarter ending Aug. 31 and total revenues of $3.5 billion.

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Serenoa, Florida - Deal could bring second new town to eastern Collier County, Florida Just south of Immokalee - wouldn't that be interesting?

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