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Patient developer ready to build

While new neighborhoods seem to spring from the earth like dandelions, Eagle Crest has evolved slowly.

The developer bought the land on Newburger Road eight years ago. He settled on a concept four years ago. He built a wall, gate and guardhouse eight months ago.

There are antique-looking streetlights and a sidewalk. There are no houses, only 34 grassy lots.

The cautious pace is just fine with the developer, Jose Moya Rodrigues.

"We start this to learn," he said in a Portuguese accent. "We are learning."

Eagle Crest has taught Rodrigues some of the peculiar ways of suburban America, a land of drywall, of model homes, of streets that curve for no reason. He has learned about Lutz and Land O'Lakes, where the word "paradise" has a connotation he never foresaw.

Now it's time for his reward.

"Now," said Rodrigues, 42, "I'm learning about to sell."

Rodrigues and his three brothers are the second generation in a family company, Rodesan Electrica, which does large-scale electrical and plumbing work in Sao Paulo, the financial heart of Brazil.

Rodrigues and one of his brothers decided to export their development skills to the United States. Rodrigues discovered Tampa through friends in the Christian Congregation, a multinational church network.

In 1988, he bought 34 pastoral acres from another church member, and began planning Eagle Crest.

Rodrigues had coined the land "Green Paradise," until someone told him about Paradise Lakes, the famous nudist resort that lies less than two miles to the northwest.

He also began learning about American housing tastes.

Some people may want acre lots in Eagle Crest, he learned.

"In Brazil, one acre is too much," Rodrigues said. In expensive Sao Paulo, the acre would cost more than $500,000, he said.

In Brazil, streets curve when the terrain requires it. Straight streets are fine, even among the wealthy, he said.

Not so for Americans, who want to live on curving streets. So Eagle Crest is curvy.

In Brazil, where a family may spend entire lives in the same house, homes are custom-built to individual tastes, Rodrigues said. Model homes would not do.

Walls are of concrete block, he said. A Brazilian in a model home would thump the drywall and say, "This is paper," Rodrigues said.

He learned about ethics in a falling out with an engineer.

"I thought Americans were so responsible, so honest," he said. "It's like Brazil. It's the same. It's the same anywhere."

But Rodrigues persevered, and has his development ready for the homebuilders.

His associate, Chip Whitmore, vice president of JMJ Custom Homes, said the development will have homes with 2,500 to 4,000 square feet of living area. They will be custom-built and cost up to $350,000, he said.

The guardhouse will allow residents to check visitors by intercom and closed-circuit television, Whitmore said.

Some people questioned the need for such security in an area still dominated by pastures, Rodrigues said. But Rodrigues comes from a Brazilian metropolis, where neighborhoods fight off crime with multiple gatekeepers and patrols.

Tampa is expanding toward Lutz, he said.

"The city is growing up," he said. "The problems are growing up."

He built the guardhouse, wall and gates early so people could see what they were getting, he said.

"Everything must be ready," he said.

One of Rodrigues' lots already has sold and several more are reserved, Whitmore said. Within weeks, JMJ will start building a contemporary stucco house with 2,900 square feet of living area.

"Now, I think I want to be fast," Rodrigues said. "The time to learn is finished."

_ If you have a story about Lutz, call Bill Coats at 226-3469.