Andrew G. Irick II tried to speak, but the crowd shouted him down and told him he was an uninvited guest.
At the time, Irick was division president of U.S. Home Corp.'s Central Florida Division, which proposed to build 181 homes and townhouses on what used to be a 40-acre horse farm in the Ridgemoor area.
More than 500 residents had crammed into Lutheran Church of the Resurrection last summer for a meeting to oppose the development plan for one of the last, large, undeveloped properties in the county. Residents said the dense development would add too much traffic to their quiet neighborhood and devalue their properties.
Irick went back to U.S. Home and told his bosses to scrap the plan. U.S. Home decided to scale the plan back to 101 homes, which conformed with existing zoning, but was still too dense for the neighbors' liking.
Now comes a new plan, one for 49 upscale homes in an exclusive gated community to be called Hawks Landing. And the plan comes from none other than Irick, who no longer works for U.S. Home.
Irick, 49, left U.S. Home in November after 25 years with the company. In February, he and attorney Joel Tew, the principals of a new company, TBL Trust, bought the property from U.S. Home.
Their plan, which is now under county review, is just what many neighbors were hoping for. More than half the homes will be priced at more than $500,000.
"It's going to be a very first-class development," Irick said Friday.
Twenty of the homes will be built by Nohlcrest Homes on 85- by 135-foot lots. Those homes will likely sell in the $300,000 range, Irick said. The other 29 homes will be built by Marc Rutenberg Homes on larger, 100-foot by 150-foot lots. Irick estimated those homes will start at about $500,000.
By contrast, the U.S. Home plan called for houses starting at under $200,000.
"My only reaction is, that's great," said Ridgemoor resident Coleen Verdon, who helped lead the opposition to the U.S. Home plan last summer. "That certainly cuts down on our concern about added traffic. We won there."
County officials said the plan calls for access only onto Ridgemoor Boulevard, alleviating the concern some residents had that if it connected with Stag Thicket Lane, cars would use the road as a cut-through.
"All of our concerns have been met," Verdon said.
Ideally, residents had hoped the county would buy the property to add to the Brooker Creek Preserve. The county was interested and made several offers, said Ellyn Kadel, the county's real estate manager.
"Sometimes we just can't get together on price," Kadel said.
The former property owner, Robert Van Worp, 70, who operated the property as a farm for his racehorses for 20 years, said he would like to have sold to the county. But the county's offers were well below what was being offered by private developers, he said.
"They just didn't want to get realistic," he said. "It would've been great for everyone."
Van Worp will retain 18 to 20 acres for his homestead. In preparation for the new homes, he said, a dilapidated barn was torn down earlier in the year and about half the paddock fences were knocked down.
"If it's going to be developed, better to have something that will be nice back there," said Steve Poling, president of the Stag Thicket Estates Homeowners Association.
"We were concerned about the previous plans with U.S. Home because of density," he said. "I would assume this would be a much better development, more compatible with the surrounding area."
"I have no qualms about it," said John Baker, president of the Bridlewood Homeowners Association. "It can do nothing but increase the property values in the whole area if they can make it fly."
_ Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at 445-4185.