LAND O'LAKES — Connerton, the distressed new town that ceased operations last year and has been put up for sale, has drawn interest from a Dallas-based group.
CoastOak Group, which also claims the same hometown as Connerton's previous owner, Terrabrook, has expressed interest in the development. A company representative met with County Administrator John Gallagher and other top officials last month.
Don Carroll, a principal of CoastOak whose business card was included in county records, declined to comment on any possible sale of all or part of the 3,500-acre project.
"We're not ready to make any announcements," he said.
Connerton president Stew Gibbons, who was laid off along with the other staffers, wouldn't discuss details of the discussions but said nothing had been finalized.
"It's a process," said Gibbons, who said late last year that he hoped a deal could be reached in January. Gibbons also wouldn't say whether other firms had expressed interest.
Gibbons had contact with Carroll in November, when the two were speakers at a conference in San Francisco.
According to CoastOak's Web site, www.coastoakgroup.com, the group was founded in 2008 and invests in distressed residential markets. It has eight projects nationwide, including one in the Ocala area and another near Orlando.
It focuses on geographic areas with certain characteristics:
• Fundamentally sound and diversified economic drivers leading to inevitable long-term growth.
• Recent volatility in home prices and absorption leading to market dislocation
• A predictable supply pattern in the mid- to long-term, often due to increasing scarcity of developable land, environmental/development restrictions or an arduous approval process.
E-mails between local land use attorney Ben Harrill and county officials outlined changes that CoastOak wants to make to development agreements, including postponing the completion of the first phase from 2013 to 2015.
It also proposed eliminating specific deadlines for completing roads within the community and the Collier Parkway extension to Ehren Cutoff.
Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein replied that it would be difficult for the county to agree to the proposal without specifics on how many homes would have to be built to trigger the required road improvements.
Built atop the former Conner cattle ranch, Connerton fits in a rough triangle formed by State Road 52, U.S. 41 and Ehren Cutoff in Land O'Lakes.
Its two main selling points have been 3,000 acres of nature preserve that adjoin the property and a town center with offices, stores and schools that residents could walk to. Interlocking nature trails would knit together the 7,000 to 8,000 homes.
Terrabrook completed a $8 million resort-style clubhouse last year. The clubhouse recently trimmed hours and raised fees.
As part of its live-work-and-play philosophy, Connerton developers sold off chunks of land for a branch of University Community Hospital and a Publix-anchored shopping center. Both were unaffected by the cessation of housing sales.
In November, Connerton defaulted on tens of millions of dollars' worth of tax-exempt bonds used to finance construction of roads, street lamps, utilities and other infrastructure.
Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report, which includes information from Times files.