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Meritage seemingly backs out of Sanford development over land price

Meritage seemingly backs out of Sanford development over land price
The rectangle bordered in red was planned by Meritage Homes to become a 26-home Sanford community, but disagreement over the price of the property appears to have canceled the deal. (GoogleEarth)

An upscale residential project that Meritage Homes planned for Sanford has apparently unraveled over discord involving the nearly 10-acre property's selling price.

Meritage sought to lower the cost three times after the 9.44-acre parcel was placed under contract in March 2015, according to one of the property owners, and a person close to the matter who requested anonymity.

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As a result, the $1.2 million contract, which had been negotiated down from a $1.5 million asking price, expired on Feb. 12 without a closing.

This was not before Meritage sought to reduce the property's price by $350,000, $100,000 and $150,000, in that order, said Richard Wesley, one of the property's three owners and principle at REW Landscape Group of Sanford, which he founded over two decades ago.

"We told [Meritage] it's not happening," Wesley said of the reductions.

The three property sellers had put together their individual, contiguous parcels in hopes that building mass would bump up the overall price. It appeared to have worked, attracting Meritage to envision Somerset Estates, which would consist of 26 homes priced up to $500,000.

The other two owners of the parcels are Michael E. Lewis, whose address corresponds with Cognitiv Inc. but could not be reached for comment. Mitsue Aso, the third owner, operated Japan Nursery, a plant and tree nursery at the site, and could not be reached for comment.

Meritage's land development manager for the Orlando area, Dante Fraiegari, said the project "hasn't been fully approved by the county."

Joy Giles, senior planner for Seminole County, said the county had given its approval to permitted uses, design and all the other key approvals that a developer seeks.

What was needed, Giles said, was a developer's commitment, signed by all three owners that lists permitted uses.

Fraiegari also said the project is "still in the entitlement process," the legal means of getting approvals for the right to develop property for a particular use.

He did not respond when asked if Meritage lowered its price for the land. A representative at Meritage's headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, did not respond to a request for comment.

In late October, Fraiegari told GrowthSpotter site development should start early this year and construction was planned to begin by mid-summer.

Explanations vary for why Meritage seemingly conducted price negotiations this way. Ann Thomson, housing economist at Dodge Data & Analytics, said the homebuilder could be tightening its belt across the board in response to less favorable economic conditions mostly in other parts of the country.

"We've noticed a downward change in housing starts mostly across the country," she said. "I would suspect it's related to the stock market. There is nervousness about spending because of its decline. Last year was different."

Meritage appeared to be moving right along, at least during the fall. That's when the homebuilder approached Seminole County planners with a subdivision plan and a final development plan, on the heels of receiving Seminole County Commission approval to change the parcel's zoning designation to Planned Development from Agricultural.

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The property is at the northwest corner of Orange Boulevard and New York Street, and Somerset Estates would have joined other single-family residential communities like Retreat at Wekiva, Orange Boulevard and Astor Farms that have been built in the area in recent years.

Now, "it looks like we're back to having 10 acres of land ready to develop," said Wesley, who has owned his three-acre parcel for eight years.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at ktalley@growthspotter.com or (407) 420-5176. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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