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The St. Cloud City Council overruled City Manager Bill Sturgeon and its own advisory committee on Thursday to select a buyer and master developer for nearly 200 acres along Canoe Creek Boulevard.

Equity Investments/Gentry Land raised its offer price by $125,000 – to $6.25 million – in the third round of bidding for the property. Avex Homes/Avalon Park Group dropped its offer price but was still $575,000 higher than the Equity offer. The third finalist, Orlando-based Titan Properties, had the highest initial offer but withdrew after two rounds of bidding.

Sturgeon recommended the Avex proposal because of the $6.825 million price, and the city’s Public Safety Task Force unanimously endorsed Avex because their plan reserved 6 acres for a future public safety complex.

But council members were swayed by Equity’s pledge to develop a community with a greater balance of residential and non-residential uses, with more parks and less density. The council voted 4-1 in favor of the Equity proposal.

Avex Homes proposed 300 single family homes and 250 townhomes, multifamily (pink) and mixed-use (red) components. They also provided an option to build a new public safety complex (purple) and lease it back to the city.
Avex Homes proposed 300 single family homes and 250 townhomes, multifamily (pink) and mixed-use (red) components. They also provided an option to build a new public safety complex (purple) and lease it back to the city.

“I feel like we’ve been jerked around by other people,” Councilwoman Linette Matheny said. “This is a local company, and I feel like they’re going to do a good job because this is their hometown, too.”

“I’m on cloud nine,” Gentry President Reed Berlinsky said on Friday. “It’s a great piece of property – the last little infill section in that area of St. Cloud.”

The St. Cloud-based developer has previously bid on the land in 2018. The bulk of the site, 143 acres, lies within the Stevens Plantation special overlay district extending from Canoe Creek Road to Budinger Avenue, surrounding the Stevens Plantation Elementary School. Two additional city-owned parcels, totaling 50+ acres, were added to the offering.

Gentry’s Mike Liquori said the conceptual plan by Tampa-based Heidt Design reflected everything council members said they were looking for.

“You wanted a high-quality mixed-use development that was not overloaded with residential,” he said. The Gentry plan sets aside 15 acres for multifamily development but caps the unit count at 275. Equity’s concept included traditional single family homes, as well as a row of rear-alley loaded single family homes fronting on the linear park that extends the length of the property. The total number of dwelling units is 555.

“We could have increased our purchase price and removed some of the commercial for more single family to justify that price, but that is not the high quality community the city deserves,” Liquori said.

The Avex proposal included a higher density of single family residential and multifamily –including buildings with ground-floor retail uses – but it had less overall acreage for commercial uses. It also showed less open space and smaller ponds. The total number of entitled dwelling units was 950.

Avex President Eric Marks warned the council not to be confused by “colors on a map” because ultimately the amount of commercial development will be driven by market demand.

“Let’s be honest, the low-hanging fruit here is the residential,” he said. “We all know we can get national homebuilders in here tomorrow. I’d be willing to make a commitment to put a cap on the residential units until a certain amount of commercial is built.”

Mayor Nathan Blackwell, who lives in Stevens Plantation, said he would accept a lower sale price for the land as a trade-off to get a project with three-times the amount of commercial acreage.

“I personally am frustrated by the difference between these two offers, and I would lean toward the Equity offer because it would be a nicer development for our community rather than jamming almost a thousand homes into that same property,” Blackwell said.

The Council will vote on the contracts in December, with closing expected within 90 days. Berlinsky said he expects to spend much of 2020 in design and engineering and hopes to break ground by the end of the year. He said he’s already fielding calls from homebuilders and multifamily developers.

“We’ve had some serious discussions with multifamily partners,” he said. “The community needs some good, quality market-rate multifamily, and we attempted to size it appropriately for that market. We want to make sure it’s a nice community that fits in with what’s already there in Stevens Plantation and not something crammed full of height and density.”

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