RIVERVIEW — It's official. Developers will plow under a reminder of Hillsborough County's dairy farm heritage.
The cows at the old Aprile farm on Balm-Riverview Road boarded trucks and shipped out in 2006 to make way for homes that never materialized, thanks to the housing bust.
But the old barn came down and heavy equipment showed up a few weeks ago at the 59-acre site, making way for 236 single-family homes. An entrance road is under construction at Balm-Riverview where it intersects with McMullen Road.
On Tuesday, county commissioners gave their blessing to a minor change in the site plan that will allow for smaller backyard setbacks on the south side of the neighborhood, not far from Rhodine Road.
Reviewing agencies said the change will not affect the number of homes already approved or the environmental health of Rice Creek, which flows through the site.
The new community, dubbed "Estuary," will be built in phases over the next two years or so, said Marshall Gray, Tampa division president for developer M/I Homes. He said the company hopes to have a model home or two built and lots for sale by mid 2012.
Homes will range from about 1,700 square feet to more than 3,500, Gray said. Prices will start near $200,000 and likely will average between $225,000 and $250,000.
The project is much smaller than the nearby Panther Trace and Rivercrest subdivisions. But construction industry officials say it's a bright sign that home building is making a comeback.
"We can't look at the 2002-2006 time period as what's normal," said Jennifer Doerfel, executive vice president of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Builders Association.
"In all honesty, we'll never see that again in our lifetime. We are at a return-to-normal market."
Gray, who also is the association president for 2012, said Brandon, Valrico and southern Hillsborough remain among the hottest new-home construction markets in the county.
"It's still one of the most competitive markets for home builders," he said. "You (buyers) get a significant value for the dollar."
He predicted a slow increase ahead in demand for new homes. Most growth in the market will depend on consumer confidence and willingness to borrow money to finance a home purchase, he said.
Former dairy operators say Hillsborough was home to about 70 dairies in the mid 1900s, including sprawling farms in Brandon that now hold houses, apartment complexes, shopping centers and office parks.
The Apriles' Balm-Riverview farm was one of several dairies in southern Hillsborough to close in the past decade to make way for housing subdivisions. The Apriles own another dairy on Cowley Road, one of a handful still operating in Hillsborough, including Tower Dairy on 78th Street near Progress Village.
Susan Marschalk Green can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.