Homebuilders' activity cause South Dade officials to expect population boom
By Sherri C. Ranta
About 18,000 new homes are planned for southern Miami-Dade County in the next several years, a figure that's put school and municipal officials on notice that crowds on the way.
"We never anticipated that it was that drastic - we just knew it was drastic. The school board didn't know," said Mary Finlan, executive director of the Homestead-Florida City Chamber of Commerce.
"We now have six new school projects in south [Miami-Dade] in the five-year plan," she said. "We had none before the report. They really weren't getting the drift about what the population is doing."
Chamber officials put together the housing report late last year, Ms. Finlan said, so school officials would realize that the south county area needs new schools quickly.
Home prices, she said, average $130,000 to $200,000 for a three-bedroom and $180,000 to $300,000 for a four-bedroom.
"We've got a lot of people coming from Coral Gables, Hialeah and Kendall looking for more house for their money and the ambiance of the country. People up there never knew we existed," she said. "We've become the place to go, plus we're the last place. We're it."
Homestead City Manager Curt Ivy said 11,000 new homes are planned in his city. While the city has enough electrical capacity through 2007, he said, planning is under way to improve the system. Florida Power & Light serves the area.
Mr. Ivy said development in the area is benefiting the city in the form of increased property values. Homestead's assessed property value is about $895 million now, a 17% increase from the previous assessment. "That's unheard of down here," he said.
The increase in assessed values - which will lead to more tax revenue for the city - is good news for Homestead. The city is working to overcome a $6 million deficit.
"We struggled for a long time. I think we have a lot of assets down here now - land being the major one. It's coming to pay off for us right now," Mr. Ivy said.
City officials are hoping to create an Educational Facilities Benefits District. The district would allow all impact fees to go to the developing areas to serve new students rather than go directly to the county school board.
"This is relatively new legislation," Mr. Ivy said. "If approved, we would be the third in the state to do it."
Tim Williams, whose family has owned and farmed land in the Homestead area since the early 1900s, said his family sold a large parcel of land for development of the 2,274-home Water Stone and the 1,100-home Malibu Bay communities in Homestead - both under development by Landstar Homes of Coral Gables.
"This area is very unique in all of Dade County," said Mr. Williams, a consultant for Landstar. "It's well-planned. They didn't operate in a vacuum. The city encouraged them to assess cumulative impacts and plan accordingly."
Developers are sharing the load for infrastructure improvements, he said, including widening roads, setting aside land for charter schools and shopping centers and providing a site for Homestead Hospital, to be built on 60 acres in Malibu Bay
Landstar, Mr. Williams said, provided incentives to Baptist Health South Florida, expected to open in 2006. The company, he said, donated land for a new charter school that will serve more than 1,000 pupils in the Water Stone and Malibu Bay communities.
Pride Homes, Lennar Homes and Caribe Homes, under a joint venture, are developing 2,300-home residential community Renaissance in Homestead. They also have set aside land for a charter school, Mr. Williams said.
Landstar, he said, has sold a 12-acre site on the north end of Water Stone to real estate investment trust Equity One. A Publix-anchored shopping center is planned for the site.
Mr. Williams said developers are widening roads and most development will be near Florida's Turnpike.
Landstar has an agreement with the city to widen roads affecting its subdivisions, he said. "Those improvements will not be paid for by the city or the county," he said.
"I'm surprised it's happened so quickly," Mr. Williams said. "The national market conditions have changed since we started. There is an incredible demand that no one anticipated - low interest rates and high absorption rates."