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Bye, Cannon Ranch; Hello, Bella Verde

The 1,966-acre property on State Road 52 known for decades as the Cannon Ranch has a new highfalutin name: Bella Verde.

Owners plan to start construction this year on the first of up to 6,700 homes and a luxury golf course aimed at landing professional international tournaments.

The building schedule is ambitious: A lineup of at least eight national and regional builders hopes to finish Bella Verde in five years. Homes would range from $200,000 to $2-million.

"Featuring distinct Santa Barbara style architecture, the name Bella Verde was chosen for its European influences seen through its lavish homes, lush landscape and exceptional amenities," reads a news release Friday announcing the name change.

Friday's announcement was the first time developers, most from California, went public with plans to transform a piece of property that's struggled to find a niche.

In the 1990s, investors proposed building a country-western-themed amusement park called Charlie Daniels Western World. The idea never flew. Nor did a proposal to build an auto racing track on the ranch, about a mile east of Interstate 75.

Bella Verde proposes a mix of housing styles, including ritzy estate houses, town homes, golf villas, resort condominiums and casitas (typically an embellished, sometimes stuccoed, mobile home).

A centerpiece of Bella Verde is an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, to be equipped with spectator galleries and TV wiring for PGA broadcasts.

Partners on the project are Tom Dempsey, owner of Wesley Chapel's Saddlebrook Resort, and three businessmen from California: Lee Newell, Fred Bates and Greg Bennett. The group bought the ranch for $31-million last year.

For the clubhouse, restaurant and bar, developers selected the highest point on the former ranch, a sandy knoll commanding views of 2 to 3 miles.

Houses on the greens and fairways would command some of the highest prices. The nearest comparable community is Lake Jovita, a luxury golf course development 3 miles to the east on SR 52.