It's been 23 years since Jim Karr and a number of West Orange County citrus growers whose land and livelihood had been decimated by the series of arctic freezes, banded together to grow houses instead of oranges.
Together they created Horizon West, a series of six planned villages from 20,794 acres of former orange groves and other agricultural uses. Eventually the planned development is expected to have about 40,282 homes.
"It seems like yesterday," said Karr.
Almost yesterday, on August 31, Karr bought a 40.9-acre parcel in Village I, just east of Avalon Road and north of Lake Gifford, for $1.88 million. I is the last village of the six to be developed.
Karr already owned a parcel kitty-cornered to the NE of the land with a partner, so it seemed to make sense to buy the neighboring piece, he said.
"I figured if I was working in the area I might as well get a little bit more," he said. "I think in two or three years we will see some development in that area."
Horizon West's residential development has averaged 573 residential permits a year between 2002 and 2013, according to a county report. Its biggest permit year was 2006 with 1,184, just before the recession hit and permits dropped below that average from 2008 through 2011, rebounding in 2012. Since the rebound, Horizon West has averaged about a third of all Orange County's residential growth each year, according to the report.
Make no mistake, Horizon West is nowhere near built out, said Olan Hill, Orange County's chief planner.
About 60 percent of the residential development is complete, he said. "It may be another 20 to 25 years before that number gets close to 90 or 95 percent," Hill said.
And Village I, where Karr made his most recent investment isn't even close to getting vertical construction, say Hill. It was poised to come onboard when the recession hit.
"Because Village I is one of the newest villages, there are a whole lot of things to go through, including a transportation agreement, and the school issue would need to be addressed as well, he said.