Every home in the 1,200-acre development, called Arden, will back up to a park, greenway or nature trail.
The project will feature 19 miles of fitness trails, 176 acres of lakes and a 5-acre working farm and community barn, where residents can gather for cooking classes, harvest events and meals.
“We are creating a destinaton,” Jennifer Tonisson, marketing director for Freehold Communities, said in a statement. “There are very few communities like Arden in the country.”
Still, questions remain about Arden: What are the prices, and is there a market for new homes in a remote area more than 15 miles from Interstate 95? South Florida’s housing market is beginning to cool, but demand for new homes remains strong, analysts say. The project — on Southern Boulevard past Lion Country Safari and a 12-minute drive from Wellington — will add to the stock of new homes in the tri-county region, where available land is in short supply.
Boston-based Freehold is developing the site but will bring in builders to construct the homes. The list of builders has yet to be announced, so prices haven’t been set.
Tonisson said there will be some first-time buyers, but she added that the developer expects “quite a lot of move-up homebuyers who want a nicer and/or larger home, plus downsizing buyers who want a prestigious address in a vital community with exceptional amenities.”
Arden probably won’t have any trouble attracting first-time buyers, who often are shut out of new construction because prices are too high, said Kevin Maher, president of the Palm Beach County Affordable Housing Collaborative, a group that promotes cost-effective housing in the area.
“Straight out Southern is really a freeway anyway,” Maher said. “It’s not as bad a commute as coming from Port St. Lucie or Stuart, which a lot of people are already doing.”
But affluent buyers will be a tougher sell, analysts say.
Ken Johnson, an economist and real estate professor at Florida Atlantic University, said buyers with disposable incomes want to live on or close to the water and enjoy the nearby nightlife.
“Intuitively, this seems too far west,” Johnson said. “I don’t see it as a luxury destination.”
David Cobb, division president of the Metrostudy research firm, agrees that Arden is best suited for first-time buyers and young families. He said the Ave Maria development, in a remote section of Collier County, has been the top-selling community in southwest Florida recently because lot prices are cheap for builders, so buyers get good value. “That formula works,” Cobb said. “Whether Arden embraces it or not, we’ll see.”
“The problem is that escalating lot prices in southeast Florida may not allow builders to turn enough of a profit on homes to accommodate that segment of the market,” Cobb said.
Sales at Arden are expected to begin in the fall, when model homes are under construction. The first buyers should be able to move in next spring, Tonisson said. This is Freehold‘s first project in South Florida, though it developed a community near Jacksonville called Shearwater that opened in January. Freehold says it has developed more than 10,000 lots in five states.