Residential Real Estate- Hi Hat Ranch

Hi Hat Ranch home sites offer 'new ruralism'
SARASOTA COUNTY -- If there was any doubt about the wealthy being able to weather the realty doldrums, The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch is proof they can. In the latest ultra-high-end development east of Interstate 75, The Forest joins The Concession, The Lake Club and The Founders Club at the pinnacle of what developers are targeting as the good life.

Given that the land was closely held for a half-century, it might be one of the last tracts of its kind so close to central Sarasota, yet untouched enough that wildlife abounds.

That land is the main draw at The Forest at Hi Hat Ranch.

Unlike other high-end developments east of Interstate 75 offering multimillion dollar homes, the gated Forest community offers no golf course, no club house -- no amenities period.

It is being marketed as "new ruralism" and it is all about the privacy of quiet country estate living. Set in a 270-acre expanse of countryside, the property was owned for years by the Turner family. Herman Turner, the clan patriarch, bought the land during the World War II.

The Forest is being developed by Tom Dabney II, a family member by marriage and president of Gulf Coast Property Services Inc. and Sugarbowl Development Inc. Dabney says Sugarbowl, the actual development entity for The Forest, already has spent $6.5 million and expects another $3.5 million to be invested in infrastructure.

The Hi Hat Ranch itself, having developed the 270 acres for The Forest, now has about 9,700 acres left. At one time, the ranch consisted of about 30,000 acres. Today, the ranch operates cattle, citrus, vegetable, timber and a sod business. The Turner family also owns the 1,800-acre LT Ranch near the Bee Ridge and Clark roads.

Despite the sale of The Forest tracts, the Hi Hat Ranch remains largely scenic and natural -- much like nearby Myakka State Park. There will be 54 three- to five-acre country estates set far enough apart so owners won't be tripping over each other. Most probably won't even see each other's homes. Most homes to be built "must be constructed with a minimum of 4,000 square feet of air-conditioned space with three car garages," the deed restrictions say. No home design can be repeated and none can be higher than 35 feet tall.

Homes are to be built by three of Sarasota's premier custom home builders: John Cannon Homes; Arthur Rutenberg Homes -- M. Pete McNabb Inc.; and Lee Wetherington Homes. Each of the three developers have built spectacular models.

Wetherington's Castella Rossa is about a $3 million "French Country" estate, says Wetherington, but one that also strongly reflects northern Italian influence. The price includes the 3.5-acre site.

John Cannon's Mallana model is definitively Italian "Country Tuscan," says Cannon and comes in at about $2.8 million, also with a 3.5-acre lot.

Rutenberg's Sorrento model priced at about $4 million is a "Craftsman-style" home with rustic timber and stone details throughout. It has a higher-tech, Zen-feel that sets it apart, from more traditional French and Italian country chateau.

Craftsman style had its roots in England as a protest against the "fussiness of the Victorian era," said Derek Nelson, president of M. Pete McNabb. The style reached its pinnacle in California and is known for its use of regional materials, relationship with the outdoors and integrated garden and landscape designs.

The lots range in price from $189,000 to $449,800 and in size from about 3 to about 5.3 acres.

John Cannon Homes has taken reservations on seven homes so far -- probably at the head of the pack for the moment.

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