Developer activity along Osceola County's East Lake Toho area is heating up, priming it to be one of Central Florida's hottest real estate markets, FHC CEO Frank Cawthon Jr. told GrowthSpotter.
Cawthon goes before Osceola's Development Review Committee next week seeking approval for Fontana Lakes, a 677-acre, master-planned community that will feature the first new marina on Lake Tohopekaliga in 40 years.
Wednesday's vote on the conceptual plan is a bit of a formality. County planners have already recommended approval of the project, which will be zoned for mixed use and entitled for 1,752 single family homes, 1,200 multifamily units and 170,000 square feet of office space.
"I've done quite a number of developments along the Narcoossee Road corridor," Cawthon said. "I think this is the next frontier."
FHC Development bought the property in 2014 from the Whaley family for $13.25 million. The family, descendants of the late rancher Cecil E. Whaley, still owns thousands of acres in the lake district that are slated for mixed-use development called Edgewater. A portion of Edgewater, which is immediately north of Fontana, is currently on the market for $42 million.
"I believe in that corridor wholeheartedly – I applaud the county for having the vision to master plan this for the roads and schools and infrastructure," Cawthon said.
Cawthorn refers to the area as the "lake district," and he predicts it will surpass Horizon West as the area's most desirable housing market. "We could go sell 500 lots today," he said. "We're letting that whole market mature. We see that market coming into its own in 1-2 years."
D.R. Horton started building homes in Kindred, the northernmost community in the district, this year. The development of regional impact (DRI) is approved for nearly 3,000 single family homes and 639 mulitfamily units. The mixed-use project also has entitlements for 550,000 square feet of retail, office and institutional uses.
The master plan also incorporates the Tohoqua DRI, Bella Terra and Green Island. The five communities comprise more than 11,000 acres and have combined entitlements for 16,380 single family homes and 11,800 multifamily units. It also calls for multiple schools, parks and neighborhood commercial centers.
All of the communities will be linked by a series of north-south roads and a multimodal corridor designed to accommodate future light rail.
"We're banking on two things: that the roads will connect and give us full and total access to the (Florida) Turnpike," Cawthon said. "And also the new jobs at the FAMRC. If that corridor gets that kind of job growth they're predicting, plus the interchange at S.R. 417 at the turnpike, we're only 15 minutes from Medical City. So that could potentially provide housing for those two huge job markets."
The marina, located in the southwest corner of the parcel, would be modeled after St. Cloud's marina, Cawthon said. The city marina has 143 boat slips, and Fontana Lakes' facility will be comparable in size. "It's going to have a restaurant, water park and a playground. I think they've done a really nice job with that," he said.
Cawthon said Fontana could be developed with a series of internal canals and a boat lift system, but that decision hasn't been made yet. One feature that definitely will be highlighted in the design is an existing 5 kilometer trail through the middle of the property entirely lined with mature live oaks.
"We're leaving that and we're going to incorporate it into our master trail system," he said. "It's truly a unique natural amenity – you can't create that."