Two significant chunks of lakefront land are up for sale in Lake County, one the site of a historic homestead on Lake Harris in Tavares, the other a long-time family-owned parcel on the banks of East Crooked Lake in Eustis.
Both tracts were planted in orange groves that brought their owners income over the years, until the citrus greening disease arrived.
Now the landowners are looking for buyers who are more interested in planting new neighborhoods.
"I don't have much faith in the future of citrus in Florida," said Tom Line, whose family owns The Mission Inn Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills as well as the 221 acres of historic lakefront land recently listed by Colliers International for $11.5 million on the other side of Lake Harris in Tavares.
That price works out to roughly $17,340 for each improved lot.
The Beucher family bought the land, originally homesteaded in 1875 by pioneer Florida citrus grower Captain Melton, after the 1984 freeze killed citrus trees across the property.
"We replanted everything and now greening is taking it out," Line said.
Citrus greening has severely impacted the grove, raising the cost to keep it alive substantially, from about $600 an acre before greening to $2,000 to $3,000 an acre now. That cost is expected to rise next year, he said.
"You can't earn that much from the fruit sales," Line said.
While citrus greening was a factor in listing the land with Colliers International, the improved market for undeveloped land for homes in the area was the deciding factor, Line said.
The parcel is one of the largest lakefront properties for sale in the state. It forms a peninsula that juts into Lake Harris with about a mile of lakefront. It also has topography that offers panoramic views of the lake, even from non-lakefront locations.
The land is zoned for about 600 homes, said Colliers associate Dustin Bowersett. Development has revved up in Tavares in the past couple of years.
"It is becoming more and more feasible to develop in Lake County and the exurbs of Orlando," Bowersett said.
A good indicator of that increased demand is demonstrated by the construction of a new Publix on S.R. 19 not far from the property. The grocery has spurred other development nearby as well.
"What we are seeing is that once they saw that Publix went to that part of Tavares it has really peaked the home builders' interest in that area," said Bowersett.
Tavares City Commissioner Bob Grenier, who has written books on local history, including one on Captain Hayes who homesteaded the Lake Harris land, said the dying fruit trees are opening up areas for new development.
"I want to make sure that we don't have sprawl over there," said Grenier. "You want to keep getting neighborhoods with parks. We are keeping a close eye on how this part of Tavares develops."
In Eustis, another lakefront parcel with a citrus grove that has been family-owned for many years is up for sale, but this site is still relatively healthy, said Realtor Ulla Rupp Crofton of Coldwell Banker in Winter Park.
The 38-acre site on a hill overlooking East Crooked Lake in Eustis has 3,000 feet of lake frontage and a house, plus the grove. It is priced at $2.99 million.
Crofton, a former citrus grower herself, said the grove could appeal to someone who wants to have a large estate with citrus trees, or to a homebuilder who would subdivide the parcel into lots.
Gary Dye, whose family has been in the Eustis area since the 1920s, is one of three siblings who own the East Crooked Lake home that their parents built in 1957 on land they had owned since 1946.
Dye, who stayed on as the caretaker of the land after his siblings left town, said it is time to let go of the family's long ties to citrus. The family once had thousands of acres of groves across Central Florida.
"All of these citrus people have taken their own personal assets to try to keep their groves alive, quadrupling production costs," he said.
Rather than throwing every reported cure at the disease, Dye went back to old cultivation methods, discing between the groves by tractor and hoeing the weeds beneath the trees by hand.
It seems to have worked for now.
Still, his children aren't interested in the grove business.
"I am the last agriculturally related person in my family," said Dye. "I'm the last of the last, so when I croak there isn't anybody else."