Meritage Homes, the nation’s seventh largest production homebuilder, will be the first to break ground in the next phase of the Hills of Minneola master-planned community.
The Arizona-based builder paid $14.2 million in early July for the section known as Villages of Minneola Hills. According to the deed, Meritage picked up all of Phase 1, which comprises 407 residential lots. SunTerra Communities, master developer of the 1,200-acre community, also helped finance the deal through a $6.2 million mortgage.
Adam Schott, land development manager for Meritage Orlando, said the property has already been mass graded and has utilities at the property line. Final engineering plans have also been approved, so Meritage can get started right away on the horizontal construction. The site should be ready for model construction by late spring or early summer of 2021.
The subdivision consists of all front-loaded detached homes on 40- and 50-foot wide lots. It’s on Hancock Road, just northeast of the Florida’s Turnpike interchange, and it abuts a K-8 school site and future 60-acre regional park.
“We’re super excited about Minneola,” he said. “The turnpike interchange that opened up there a couple of years ago has been a game changer for this area. You can get from downtown Orlando to Minneola now even quicker than you can get to Clermont.”
It’s not the first time SunTerra has partnered with Meritage Homes on a large residential project. The developer and homebuilder previously teamed up in an exclusive arrangement on the former San Pedro property in Seminole County, which Meritage renamed Hawks Crest.
“We’re very happy to work with them,” SunTerra Principal Richard Jerman said. “They’re great partners. We’ve done some great neighborhoods together over the years and will continue to do so in the future.”
Jerman said SunTerra has a buyer under contract for all of Phase 2 with a closing expected in the fall.
Hills of Minneola has strict design guidelines the specify which architectural styles are permitted. Among those are craftsman, modern farmhouse, Florida vernacular, Prairie, cottage and contemporary. Schott said Meritage is still early in its design selection process and had not settled yet on the specific floorplans and architectural styles it would offer.
“We’ll have two product lines: one for the 40-foot lots and one for the 50-foot lots. And we should have four or five floorplans per line,” he said.
Meritage will be ramping up its LiVE.NOW system in the majority of its new Central Florida communities, Schott said. The system streamlines the sales process and simplifies the design selections for homebuyers.
“We build more inventory homes upfront. That’s a strong part of the strategy,” Schott said. “The idea is that you can move quickly into these homes, and it’s nice have homes the buyers can walk through and imagine themselves living there. It’s a lot of capital upfront to get these homes up out of the ground.”
The homebuilder will construct some passive amenities, such as pocket parks and playgrounds. But the main residential amenity center, which will include a pool and clubhouse, will be constructed off-site by the community development district during Phase 3. The amenity site is adjacent to the K-8 school site.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 has been an active year for Meritage. The company recently acquired two new subdivision projects in Polk and Osceola counties, and Schott said it has two more deals pending in Orange and Lake counties.
SunTerra had bought the Hills of Minneola in 2018 for $70.8 million and completed the entitlements for 2,200 single-family units, 800 active adult units, a town center with several retail stores, a school, various industrial uses, a regional park, and a civic site.
GrowthSpotter was first to report that Publix would anchor a 16-acre shopping plaza within the Town Center just west of the Turnpike interchange. Beazer Homes partnered with SunTerra, as a land banker, for 249 lots in Hills of Minneola next to Lake Minneola High School, west of the new Publix store. Hanover Family Builders still owns 150 lots in that pod.