LAND O'LAKES — In a sign that the housing market is beginning to rebound, an Arizona builder has bought 510 lots in Connerton, a master-planned community in north central Pasco that stalled during the housing bust.
Taylor Morrison announced plans to build homes on "a significant number" of lots and sell some to other builders. Three other builders have expressed interest in building homes there, officials said without naming them. Morrison did not disclose the purchase price.
"This is the most optimistic time of the market we have seen in six or seven years," said Stew Gibbons, a former Connerton executive who now works as a consultant for the community on U.S. 41. Gibbons, who also lives in the community, watched the recession take its toll on the market across the county.
"An awful lot of property values have been lost, but I sense building activity is substantially higher than it was," he said. "We're expecting a better year than last."
Connerton has about 280 finished homes. It has about 4,000 lots remaining.
"It's still very early in the project," he said.
Once billed as a new town that would eventually be Pasco's largest development, Connerton began to bog down a few years after launching in 2004 as the housing bubble burst. Last August, it was featured in USA Today as the poster child of hard-hit suburbia as Tampa took center stage as the site of the Republican National Convention.
"Its predicament illustrates broader issues facing President Obama and Mitt Romney, including foreclosures, jobs, the environment and infrastructure," the newspaper said. The development also is on its third owner, Texas-based investment firm Hayman Woods.
Its northern location within Pasco compared with properties along State Road 54 and the county's inability to build the Ridge Road extension due to environmental concerns didn't help the development, said Marvin Rose, a housing consultant who publishes Rose Residential Reports. But the market is looking up and communities just to the south such as Dupree Lakes and Asbel Creek are sold out or close to it.
"It's been stuck with a number of lots and changed ownership and had a lot of delays out there," Rose said. "But it's still one of the most attractive communities in Pasco County."
The development won kudos from its residents and county officials for its willingness to build lush amenities up front rather than waiting until closer to buildout.
Those include Club Connerton, which is staffed by an activities director and consists of a clubhouse with fitness center, a grill and coffee shop, day care center, two swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, playground, volleyball court and outdoor amphitheater.
"The concept behind Connerton has always been strong — a large, master-planned community in a great location and with tons of amenities, including an exceptional clubhouse and an on-site elementary school," said Cammie Longenécker, vice president of sales and marketing for Taylor Morrison West Florida.
The announcement drew cheers from County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes Connerton.
"Pasco is on the cusp; we are moving forward," she said. "I am delighted this jewel is in my district."
Realtor Greg Armstrong said he's seeing an uptick in new and resale homes.
"My agents have four or five new homes under construction they wrote contracts on," he said. "That's more than we did in five years total."
Foreclosures remain high, but Armstrong said they are slow to make it to market.
"When they do, they go in 10 to 12 days," he said. "There's not much out there."