Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Land Set Tone for Housing

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Land Set Tone for Housing

Article excerpt

Last year, University Park Country Club celebrated its 20th anniversary. The award-winning golf-course community, two miles west of Interstate 75, was developed by local builder Pat Neal, who wanted to create a prestigious, elegant-looking place while preserving the native landscape.

"University Park was the first golf course I ever built," says Neal. "We worked hard to assure that we maintained the natural features of the land -- palmettos, the beautiful oaks, maples, bay trees and loblolly bay shrubs."

The community features many environmental, "green" aspects that were unique at the time but have since become the norm in development. A large oak hammock canopies the road inside the entrance gate on University Parkway. The lakes and retention ponds were dug especially deep to create a system of irrigation throughout. With few exceptions, homes do not back up to one another, but face the golf course, lakes or nature preserves.

When Neal purchased the land with Rolf Pasold, a British business partner, and started to develop it in 1989, the area was platted for 1,250 homes. All but a handful have been built.

Neal's idea was to create enclave neighborhoods throughout, each with its own separate name, square footage and price point, to ensure that there would be homes for almost every lifestyle and budget. There are now 31 such subdivisions, with housing that ranges from small, maintenance-free villas to custom-built, million-dollar estate homes.

In the first four neighborhoods, Neal constructed most of the houses himself. But in subsequent subdivisions, residents could choose among six builders, including Lee Wetherington, Todd Johnston and Anchor Homes. As a result, there is a diversity of styles throughout the community.

When it came to laying out the 27-hole championship golf course, Neal had help from his son John, then 14. "During construction, he shot balls off the tees in the fairways so we could understand the landing zones, obstacles, and where the houses should be, he says.

John, now 37, has become a builder himself. He still remembers when the area was pristine Florida landscape. "I learned to drive on the property and went camping with my grandfather there," he says. …

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