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Ranch property on SR 54 sold for mixed-used community

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ODESSA — Houston-based real estate developer Hines paid $21 million this week for the former Behnke ranch property on State Road 54 and plans to start construction on a major new community early next year.

“There is nothing more exciting and rewarding than planning and creating an entire new mixed-use community for future generations,” said Gerald D. Hines, founder and chairman of the real estate firm. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”

The 536-acre ranch just west of the Suncoast Parkway has approved zoning and entitlements in place for the construction of 550 single-family homes, 200 townhomes, 440 multifamily units, 300,000 square feet of commercial space, and 530,000 square feet of office/light industrial space. Design and permitting are underway.

“Behnke Ranch was one of the most exciting large tracts of land available in the southeastern United States, and it presents a terrific opportunity for a large-scale, high-quality master-planned community,” project officer Lane Gardner said. “Tampa has bounced back swiftly with positive job growth creating significant demand for commercial space, quality single-family housing and apartments. We look forward to meeting this demand by delivering a highly sustainable, mixed-use development.”

He said Hines is in discussions with several home builders and will select up to four builders to move forward. Company spokeswoman Kim Jagger said the community will be renamed, “but we haven’t decided on a name yet.”

Pasco County Senior Planner Richard Dutter said officials from Hines have shared a few preliminary sketches with the county. “It is going to have an urban-type component,” Dutter said. “There will be about 50 or 60 acres as part of the first phase that will be a traditional neighborhood design with small lot sizes and alley access.”

The first phase will include plenty of bike paths, sidewalks, on-street parking, pocket parks and commercial uses within the neighborhood, he said. “It looks to be a very well-planned community,” Dutter said. “They even have a dot on the initial plan for a future transit station, so they’re clearly open to that.”

Founded in 1957, Hines was codeveloper of what is now called Steinbrenner Field, the New York Yankees’ spring training complex, in Tampa in 1993. The company is developing a 308-unit luxury apartment complex in St. Petersburg’s Carillon Park.

The Behnke land sale is further evidence that home builders are getting bullish again on Pasco County, said Marvin Rose, publisher of the Rose Residential Report.

“The housing market has rebounded in Pasco County,” Rose said. “New home sales are up 41 percent this year.”

Construction on two major new communities launched in 2013: Long Lake Ranch, which is approved for nearly 1,000 homes, and Standard Pacific’s 1,181-home Estancia community at Wiregrass Ranch.

Last year the Starkey family sold its 2,500-acre ranch to Connecticut-based private equity firm Wheelock Street Capital for $54 million. Construction on phase one of Starkey Ranch, just west of the Behnke land, is also slated for 2014.

In June, M/I Homes paid $6.1 million for 543 acres north of S.R. 52, near Growers Corner.

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