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Canadian homebuilding giant pays $51.5M for land in Wellness Way area

GT Homes USA made its first large-scale land buy with around 700 acres in the Wellness Way Area and along the future Lake-Orange Connector toll road.
GT Homes USA made its first large-scale land buy with around 700 acres in the Wellness Way Area and along the future Lake-Orange Connector toll road. (Lake County)

Canadian homebuilding giant GT Homes dipped its toes into the Florida housing market with a six-unit beachfront townhouse project near its US headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

Now it’s jumping headfirst into the competitive Central Florida market — and making a splash. The South Florida-based GT Homes USA paid $51.5 million this week for roughly 700 acres Lake County’s Wellness Way area, just south of the Schofield Road and west of Cook Road.

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The deal covered two transactions between sellers South Lake Crossings II (led by developer Jim Karr) for $37.5 million and the neighboring Catherine E. Ross Groves property, which sold for $14 million. CIBC helped finance the deal with a $33.475 million mortgage.

“It was an interesting deal, because we weren’t really in the market to sell,” Karr told GrowthSpotter. “We said this is the market price today, and we’re not willing tie it to any conditions.”

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The homebuilder will begin mass grading the site within a few weeks, but construction on the first homes in Wellness Way is still a year away.

The acreage is agricultural but has a Wellness Way - Neighborhood future land use in the Lake County Comprehensive Plan. It’s sandwiched between the U.S. 27 District, which allows for high-density residential and nonresidential uses, and the employment center east of Cook Road. It also straddles the future Lake-Orange Connector toll road, which will have a full interchange at County Road 455 before merging with S.R. 429.

Karr said he has received multiple offers for the property, but GT Homes was the first willing to buy it without zoning or entitlements. “They were willing to accept a level of risk others weren’t,” he said.

This was Karr’s second major disposition this year. In August, Lennar Homes paid $20.7 million for the first of two takedowns on the Wellness Way master-planned community, which is approved for 1,850 homes. Lennar will close on the second half of the project in 2023. Karr said he was motivated to sell the unentitled land now because out of a concern that Congress might raise the capital gains tax.

“I think they got the best piece of land out there,” he said. “I think they got a gem — I have no seller’s remorse.”

GT Homes was formed through the merger of Greenpark and Treasure Hill, two of Canada’s most prolific homebuilders. Over their combined 50 years of experience, the two companies have completed and sold more than 100,000 homes and condos. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

The Trout Lake PUD would also be approved for an apartment community and over 600,000 square feet of commercial or office space.

The Wellness Way Neighborhood district is intended for low-density residential development and encourages alternative forms of housing, such as small-lot homes and bungalow homes, duplexes, townhomes, small-scale apartments and accessory dwelling units.

Lake County and the City of Clermont are in the process of updating the Wellness Way Implementation Plan in their Comprehensive Plans. Planning consultant Richard Levey said the design guidelines for residential neighborhoods have also been updated to require a minimum of three housing product types, neighborhood parks every quarter mile and walkable streets.

“We wanted to raise the bar on the quality of residential neighborhood design,” Levey said. “We felt that if we set the bar higher, we’ll get a better product. We’re requiring a mix of product types to encourage more housing diversity and to appeal to a wider segmentation of the market.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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