Developer changes course on grand plans for Howey-in-the-Hills lakefront homes

GrowthSpotter contributor

The residential boom in Howey-in-the-Hills will continue this fall as an Orlando developer plans to break ground on a 154-home subdivision along the western shore of Little Lake Harris.

The Whispering Hills project has been on the books for years, but Red Jacket Development eventually concluded that its original concept for the subdivision – huge, stately homes – wasn’t right for the area.

“We had always desired that our project in Howey was going to be one of the gems of our portfolio,” Clay Frankel, vice president at Red Jacket, told GrowthSpotter. “We originally designed it for one-third-acre minimum lots, with homes a minimum of 3,500 square feet up to a maximum of 8,000 square feet. We really wanted big, beautiful homes cascading down this topography overlooking Little Lake Harris.”

But market studies continually showed little interest in such high-end living in the Lake County township. Meanwhile, the success of the nearby Venezia subdivision by Flagship Development caught the Whispering Hills developer’s attention.

“It just turns out that after years and years of waiting … after years of believing there were people out there that wanted a big home, we just couldn’t prove it through any market studies. Meanwhile, in Venezia, they were building 2,200, 2,300-square-foot homes. We were very observant of that project, and sure enough, those sold like hotcakes,” Frankel said.

“We thought we should probably do what the successful guys are doing, and we should build smaller homes.”

The town council approved a zoning change late last year and Red Jacket adjusted plans for 87 single-family units on 100-by-120 foot lots to 154 homes on 75-by-120 foot lots, town clerk and finance director Dairian Burke said. The new plans also call for the homes to be served by the Howey sanitary sewer service, rather than individual septic systems.

The gated Whispering Hills will sit on 61 acres between Buckhill Road and Little Lake Harris bordering the Sara Maude Mason Nature Preserve. Twenty lots will be on the lakefront, and nine will be along a pond at the north end of the property. Frankel said homes will probably average 2,500 to 2,800 square feet.

The subdivision is in the development review process, but Frankel said he expects to be able to start construction in October. The St. Johns River Water Management District also granted the developer an extension for the environmental resource permit, which was set to expire this month.

The civil engineer is Unroe Engineering Inc. of Orlando. The surveyor is SurvTech Solutions Inc. of Tampa. The geotechnical engineer is Andreyev Engineering Inc. of Clermont, and the environmentalist is Modica and Associates Inc., also of Clermont.

Whispering Hills joins a flurry of residential construction in Howey-in-the-Hills. The number of housing units in the town rose by 41 percent between 2000 and 2015, from 451 to 638 units, according to the U.S. Census and local housing data.

In addition to its Venezia development at State Road 19 and Venezia Boulevard, which provided 172 single-family lots, Flagship Development is planning to break ground soon on its Talichet project, once known as Venezia North, south of West Central Avenue at South Florida Avenue. That development will bring 93 more homes.  

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