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For FishHawk Ranch residents, an instant community

At 10 a.m., FishHawk Ranch toddlers sip juice boxes in a movie theater's purply quiet.

At 3:30 p.m., children smack yellow balls into orbit over tennis courts.

At 6 p.m., women in the Stamp a Stack club lay out crimson cards, fuchsia stamp pads and ivory ribbons on clubhouse tables.

It's an average Tuesday in FishHawk Ranch. Life here is busy: Men's B'Ball. Romper Rhythms and Fun. Tween Movie Night. Powerful You Women's Networking. The weekend brings the ninth annual road race.

Homes are readily available in any number of nameless, faceless suburbs. But the active calendar at FishHawk Ranch distinguishes this subdivision in east Hillsborough. FishHawk sells a cohesive community - a small town that's made from scratch, but already feels grown-up. Rather than simply market homes, FishHawk's developers push a place with a carefully constructed social network.

Turns out, people want to buy lifestyle, not just a house. FishHawk Ranch is the fastest-selling community in Tampa Bay.

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Every resident in FishHawk Ranch came from somewhere else. They picked FishHawk Ranch over other developments at Tampa's suburban frontier.

The schools grabbed their interest first. All of FishHawk Ranch's have earned straight A's since opening.

In the long list of things that impressed after that, from tennis courts to running trails, almost no one mentions the houses. Mostly, they could find models by the same builders elsewhere. They bought in FishHawk Ranch because they left with a good feeling.

"I looked over at the new elementary school and saw all the bikes out there, and none of them were locked up," said Steve Dunn, who moved to the region from Virginia. "I said, "This is going to be a great place.' "

The reality has exceeded his expectations.

After dinner, children play in cul-de-sacs while parents cluster around folding chairs in their driveways.

On July 4, children's bicycles trail red, white and blue streamers.

At Park Square, Disney meets Main Street: Two acres of grass are planted at the perfect angle for event seating.

Water dances to music at the splash fountain, an instant child magnet.

On a crisp Saturday morning, hundreds of visitors turn into the round-about leading to Park Square. Between trees, the view opens onto dirt fields with sticks marking future lots.

It's the ninth annual FishHawk Ranch Road Race, which benefits local schools.

Each year, developers send runners on a deliberate path - to show off the community and pique interest in buying. This year, racers see the park and shops at the town center and a new running trail.

They pass a neighborhood, Tern Wood, where houses start around $500,000.

"It's a learn-while-you-burn thing," explains Pam Parisi, FishHawk Ranch marketing manager, also a resident.

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To drive into FishHawk Ranch, one can turn off FishHawk Boulevard at the statue of an osprey, its wings arched for flight before a cascading fountain.

The sign reads like a title page: "FishHawk Ranch, by Newland Communities."

Almost any time of day, someone's biking, running, walking, talking, skate-boarding, throwing a ball or pushing a stroller. They create an energy often missing in suburbia.

It didn't happen by accident. By design, FishHawk Ranch features a packed calendar:

Children's pottery, Spanish lessons, karate. A road runners club, a mom's club, a babysitter's club, a book club. Movie nights for families, adults and tweens.

"People want to feel connected. It's almost the counterbalance that the world has become so cold and impersonal that they want to belong to their community," said developer Don Whyte, a resident and head of the Newland Communities operation in the Southeast.

Early suburban developers thought of infrastructure as roads and sewers. Then planners realized that public spaces mattered. In the past decade, developers broke away from the suburb's stereotype - a world where lives are swallowed in garages that open and close twice daily.

FishHawk Ranch stands out because planners have incorporated another level of what developers call social or soft infrastructure.

It's the events and get-togethers organized before most residents moved in.

It's connecting like-minded neighbors at a Web site, www.fishhawkconnect.com.

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When Lori Jordan and her husband moved in six years ago, softball was the only game in town.

FishHawk Ranch's marketers set up the matches, pitting the community's first three subdivisions against each other. Afterward, they catered get-togethers.

The games became a staple on the Jordan social calendar.

Soon, Jordan was creating her own Stamp a Stack classes at the Osprey Club.

She and neighbors welcomed babies at the same time. Jordan had one daughter, then another. The block filled with children.

"When we outgrew our house, the thought of moving out of FishHawk never crossed our minds," said Jordan, whose neighbors had started migrating from Phase I to Phase II.

The Jordans eyed an empty lot coming on the market in Bridgewalk, a new subdivision in Phase II, where their neighbors had moved. But Morrison Homes had only five lots to sell.

Five days before the sale, one home buyer lined up outside the builder's office, inside the model home in the Shear Water subdivision. A neighbor called Jordan, who raced to capture the second spot in line. After her husband spent the night inside his Ford F150, they rented a camper to stake out their claim on a home coming on the market. She called in sick to work to hold their slot during the day. He relieved her at nights. Waiting in line, they got to know their future neighbors.

"We're just a FishHawk family," Jordan said. "Love it enough to sleep outside for five days."

A version of this story appeared in some regional editions of the Times.

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