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PARADE OF HOMES // IT'S A NATURAL

Each spring, in conjunction with their Parade of Homes, builders in Hillsborough County build a Showcase Home, a house that embodies the best and the brightest in current home design.

In this year's Showcase Home, what's new and noteworthy is also unapologetically familiar and classic: A wraparound front porch. A center-hall floor plan. A formal dining room. Transoms over the doors. Wood floors. Crown molding. Multipaned windows. Towering trees that shade a traditional-looking two-story home.

Not what most people think of when they envision a Florida home.

"The biggest compliment people pay us is that they say our house looks as though it's always been there," said Scott M. Shimberg, executive vice president of Hyde Park Builders, which built the home. The Parade of Homes opens today; see the box on Page 5D for details.

The house is in Fish Hawk Trails, a new community developed by Shimberg Cross Co. and TECO Properties, off Lithia-Pinecrest Road in Brandon. Paved trails wind through 455 heavily wooded acres of a former cattle ranch. The landscaping outside the Showcase Home is environmentally friendly, low-water "Florida Yard" xeriscaping. (See the story on Page 3D for details on the landscaping.) Other builders in the community are Arthur Rutenberg Homes, Ken Franklin Homes, Rundle Construction and Sabal Homes. Home prices will start at about $200,000.

The house sums up a lot of national design trends. Chief among them is the movement back to houses that look like those we grew up in, or wish we had, or remember from The Donna Reed Show.

"When we test the appeal of all our pictures and plan sales throughout the year, the best-sellers include houses that are timeless," Joan McCloskey of Better Homes and Gardens told an audience in January at the National Association of Home Builders convention in Houston. "Anything that smacks of what we think our grandmother's house looked like draws like a magnet."

Grandma's house, whatever its other charms may have been, likely wasn't geared for life the way we live it today. She probably had one telephone, one bathroom and a black-and-white TV. This home is designed for a family at the end of the 20th century. Among its features:

An advanced wiring system capable of transmitting a full range of high-speed digital signals, ready to deal with the next advance in telecommunications.

James Hardie concrete siding that looks like clapboard.

A computerized system to monitor energy use.

A home theater with SurroundSound and 15 sets of speakers.

The community's own cable TV system, which allows residents to see visitors when they arrive at the gated entrance or to monitor homeowners' association meetings from their living rooms.

In the works for Phase 2: a system to recycle "graywater" from sinks and tubs.

The house has four bedrooms and 3{ baths in 3,200 square feet of living space, plus an oversized, three-car garage that opens at the side. The sale price is $350,000, though Shimberg says that given the donations and upgrades in the house, its value is around $400,000. A portion of the proceeds from the home's sale benefits APPLEservices, a division of the Crisis Center of Hillsborough County, offering family-centered sexual abuse treatment.

Another popular national housing trend in evidence here is a return to nature themes. At Fish Hawk Trails, the streets have environmentally friendly names: Audubon Manor Boulevard, Sierra Crest Lane, Thoreau Place and Muir Way. The community is surrounded by hundreds of acres of environmentally protected land, and just across Lithia-Pinecrest Road is the Alafia River, a popular place for canoeing. Overhead, fish hawks make lazy circles in the sky.

For the Showcase Home's lot, trees were cleared individually, leaving as many as possible to provide shade. Throughout the community, stands of pine and oak will separate one home from another. Eventually there will be 423 home sites, with a minimum of half an acre.

"People say it's a welcome change" from what they're seeing at other subdivisions, Shimberg said. Many of the interested buyers so far have been "committed Brandonites," people who live in the area and "want to stay in Brandon," as well as buyers moving in from out of town, he said.

People who buy here "want their home to be their retreat," Shimberg said. Likely they are two-career families, and "by the time they come back to their house at the end of the day, they want a little peace and quiet. . . . no, a lot of peace and quiet." He pointed to the front porch, the media room and the family room as "spaces that lend themselves to unwinding."

An open pavilion overlooks one of the retention ponds, where the developers envision concerts or wine tastings or weddings or just informal gatherings, a sort of outdoor living room for the community.

With birds calling in the distance and small creatures rustling along the pine-needled forest floor, Shimberg led the way one recent sunny afternoon along part of the six miles of paved nature trails that thread their way around ponds and through the trees. Someday, he said, residents will walk, jog, cycle or skate along these paths.

"I've got to believe that if anyone's against development, if they look at this, they'll say, "Yes, you can do it,' " he said.

See the showcase!

The Showcase Home is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Fish Hawk Trails is on Lithia-Pinecrest Road in southern Hillsborough. From State Road 60 in Brandon, turn south on Lithia-Pinecrest. Fish Hawk Trails is 4 miles south of Bloomingdale Road on the east side of the road. For information, call 653-9604.

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