Estero community leaders and developers believe the local economy is on the mend, and construction there is booming.
A drive up and down Corkscrew Road in Estero tells the tale. Outside of Bella Terra — a gated community with about 1,750 homes — a sign reads, "95 percent sold out." To the immediate east and west of Bella Terra, Cameratta Properties is building two communities, which will bring another 1,300 homes to the area.
Off of Three Oaks Parkway and Corkscrew in midtown, a Sarasota developer, Pat Neal, has proposed to build 110 "paired patio homes" along the Estero River.
The spike in development is due to a consensus that the local economy is turning around, said John Goodrich, director of the community-planning panel and a member of the Estero Council of Community Leaders.
"There are positive signs all around," Goodrich said. "Prices for homes are up, there's much more activity in terms of permits, and more people are coming to the planning panel regarding plans. Development is certainly not at the level that is was seven years ago, but we're moving in a positive direction."
In 2009, the housing market in Estero bottomed out. Only 86 units were built that year, compared to the last boom in 2005 when 1,645 units were constructed. But over the last couple years, the market has seen a slow recovery, and so far in 2012, 205 units have been built with another 60 permits granted in July and August.
This should signal a busy next 12-to-18 months for the ECCL — the voluntary, grass-roots community organization board, which represents more than 30 residential communities in Estero — as upcoming plans include not only new residential construction, but also a $2.6 million health-care clinic, and the start of construction of the long-awaited Walmart on U.S. 41 and Estero Parkway.
Walmart on U.S. 41 South at Estero Parkway
After nine years of wrangling and jumping hurdles, Walmart is finally coming to Estero.
Jeff Satfield, the primary engineer for the firm building the new 24-hour Walmart, announced Wednesday night at the monthly Estero Design Review Committee meeting that store construction would begin early next summer. The construction should take 10 to 11 months and the store is expected to open in the summer of 2014.
William Prysi, chairman of the design review panel, said Wal-Mart has made its final presentation and will now file for its development order and permits with Lee County.
"The ongoing battle has been for Wal-Mart to conform to the community image, not for us to the corporate image," Prysi said. "Wal-Mart has really demonstrated that they are willing to do what the community has asked."
The store's original footprint was about 228,000 square feet, but some residents had issues with the size, the all-white exterior, and the aesthetics of the rear of the store. Wal-Mart then revised its plan, and the store will now be smaller at 185,000 square feet, the look will be "Mediterranean style" with a beige and white color scheme, and will also include a tile roof like many homes have in the area.
Residential construction at The Preserve at Corkscrew, Midtowne, and Bella Terra
As of Aug. 31, there were 344 listings of unsold homes in Estero, which represents a 12-month supply. A healthy market is usually around a six- or seven-month supply, but Goodrich said the time is right for buyers because prices are likely to increase.
"We depend on people moving into our community primarily from up North, to retire and buy second homes in Estero," Goodrich said. "I think from the standpoint of the buyer, now is a good time to get in."
There are three major residential projects in the works.
Midtowne Estero East plans to build 110 attached twin villas and single-family homes that will lie along the Estero River. The base price for the homes will start around $200,000 and amenities include a pool, recreation center, and environmental preservation. Neal Properties is currently waiting on permits from Lee County and building is expected to begin around Oct. 1.
The project is the first of three in Estero that Sarasota-based company will be pursuing.
Zoning of The Preserve at Corkscrew has finished and construction of homes has begun. This year, 30 permits have been issued and, by the time the community is completed in early 2013, it will have 441 single-family homes and estate homes ranging in price from low $200,000s to more than $500,000. The amenities will include: a pool, fitness center, library, tennis courts and pool cabana.
But with development often comes opposition, and it is the plan to add an additional 195 apartments on 12 acres at the front of the Bella Terra complex that has about some residents in a dispute with the developer, Habitat Lakes LLC.
The developer held a meeting at the community in July, presenting plans to rezone the land and build three-story apartments. About 300 Bella Terra residents voiced opposition to the plans with concerns ranging from an increase in traffic to the swimming pool and exercise facilities not being large enough to accommodate the population that will come with the new apartments.
On Oct. 1, the community will be transferred from the developer to the homeowners.
"There has been very strong opposition from the residents," said Bob King, the Bella Terra transition committee president.
"There is a large concern about congestion. Bella Terra is a community made up of a wide range of people: from college students to young working-class people to retired folks. Everyone is going to be leaving for school and work at once and dumping onto Corkscrew."
King said the congestion could be compounded by the Cameretta Properties' development of the two new communities next to Bella Terra — The Preserve and Corkscrew Woods.
After the July meeting, Habitat Lakes revised plans and submitted them Sept. 6 to a Lee County reviewer.
Ultimately, if the dispute remains unresolved, it will go before the Lee County Board of Commissioners.