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back February 26th 2023 back

The South Florida developer behind some of the biggest master-planned communities in Central Florida has planted a $43 million flag on Polk County’s U.S. 27 corridor.

Noah Breakstone, CEO of BTI Partners, for the first time discussed the company’s plans for a 1,841-acre master-planned community in the City of Lake Wales at the intersection of U.S. 27 at Thompson Nursery Road, across from Eagle Ridge Mall. The transaction closed in late 2021, months after the sellers received annexation and zoning approvals to add 6,100 residential units and 725,000 square feet of commercial, office and assisted living space to the city. There’s also land earmarked for two schools, a library and fire station.

Breakstone confirmed the plans to GrowthSpotter during the 2023 “Lay of the Land Conference” sponsored by SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler in Lakeland.

“We are very excited about this project. We are looking to start breaking ground on some of the infrastructure by this summer,” he said. “Even though we are feeling the pain of interest rates right now today, even though inflation is tough right now, housing is going to come back, it’s a necessity.”

BTI Partners and equity partner Westport Capital developed Posner Village, also on U.S. 27, and own a combined 3,000+ acres along Osceola County’s Lake Tohopekaliga, where it’s currently developing phase 1 of CrossPrairie.

Breakstone said BTI is working with planning firm Stantec on the vision and placemaking for the Lake Wales community and will formally announce the project in either late March or early Second Quarter. Stantec designed the master plan for the sellers, Winter Haven Corp.

Breakstone shared the conference stage on the residential panel with Jim Bavouset, executive VP of land for Lennar Homes, and Daniel Green, who closed the $150 million Green Island Ranch land deal in late 2021. SVN broker Dean Saunders, who represented the sellers of Green Island Ranch, moderated the panel.

Green, principal of Wheelock Street Capital, is prepping for construction of phase 1 in Green Island Ranch this year, and Bavouset confirmed that Lennar will have a significant presence in both Green Island Ranch and Crossprairie.

The first neighborhood fronting on Canoe Creek Road will consist of 847 homes along with a Neighborhood Commercial Center with up to 21,000 square feet of non-residential uses. They expect the first home sales by the end of the year.

Green and the others agreed that homebuilders are trending toward smaller homes, smaller lot sizes and more modest amenities in the post-COVID cycle.

“What I’ve seen over this last cycle is residents and homeowners don’t necessarily want the big amenities,” Green said. “In the last cycle, you would see master-planned communities with 10,000-square-foot amenities with three pools and all the accouterments. The thing that came to light was those cost a lot of money, and the homeowners all pay for that.”

COVID also influenced home designs, Bavouset said. Buyers want more functional outdoor space and dedicated home office space, as well as a kids’ play area separate from the main living area. The pandemic also increased demand for multi-generational living, which Lennar offers through its Next Gen product line.

The challenge going forward will be to design more functional floorplans in smaller, more affordable homes in an era where the average home size has swelled to about 2,100 square feet.

“I think there has to be a resizing of home, a resizing of amenities, and municipalities and government authorities need to compress their timeline,” Breakstone said. “In order to really address this issue, all these factors need to come into play.”

Green said jurisdictions in other states have enacted policies mandating that developers include a minimum percentage affordable and workforce housing in residential communities, which ends up increasing home prices for market-rate product. “So here in Florida, I think if we need to get ahead of the game and understand that we’ve got to create housing to meet the needs of our residents — attainable is the word I like to use — I think we can do that as developers,” he said.