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Jax Daily Record Monday, Oct. 9, 201709:50 AM EST

Going beyond golf course communities

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Developers raise the bar on grand amenities to compete for buyers’ attention.
by: Caren Burmeister Contributing Writer

One of the primary reasons for the popularity of hot new developments are their grand amenities packages.

From natural resources to massive pools and other recreational spaces, activities in master-planned communities are drawing the attention of buyer.

Where once new developments were anchored by golf courses, they have given way to new attractions.

Today’s homebuyers are expressing greater interest in amenities such as water parks, boardwalk trails, dog parks and fitness centers. 

Such amenities provide a convenient way for parents to play outdoors with their children or pets, get in a workout close to home and socialize with their neighbors. 

“There’s been a big pendulum swing,” said Russ Ervin, an architect and hardscape designer at Ervin Lovett Miller, a design firm specializing in master planning, architecture, landscape architecture and urban design with offices in Jacksonville and Seattle.

“Golf courses have fallen off, but fitness and health is first and foremost on everybody’s mind,” he said.

More significantly, these amenities offer a place where neighbors can gather and become friends, according to Realtor Judy Hicks with Re/Max Coastal Real Estate.

“That’s why these communities are so popular,” Hicks said. “That’s been missing in a lot of communities. We want to get to know each other and look out for each other.” 

Amenities can include a workout centers, pools, a jogging path around a lake, bike lanes, putting greens and clubhouses with conference rooms and scheduled activities.

Such facilities are commonly found in master-planned communities, such as Palencia and RiverTown in St. Johns County and Wildlight in Nassau County. Nocatee, though has “raised the bar for everyone out there,” Hicks said.

The third-fastest selling planned community in the country, Nocatee has the resort-style water park, a 377-foot-long zip line, conference and wedding facilities and thousands of acres of protected wetlands with parks and greenway trails.

Nearly all of the neighborhoods within Nocatee also have their own pool and amenities, most of which are open to all residents of the development.

Such features are driving developers to create novel concepts that can set them apart from the competition. 

“They’re getting more grand and more expensive over time,” said Mike Biagini, vice president of Scherer Construction. 

As an example, Biagini points to Wildlight, the new “town” being built in Yulee that offers a high-speed fiber optic network.

Not to be outdone, Beachwalk, a residential neighborhood that’s part of the Twin Creeks development in northern St. Johns County, is building Crystal Lagoon, a 14-acre lagoon with turquoise water and white sandy beaches.

Across County Road 210 from Beachwalk is the recently announced Beacon Lake, which will include a splash park-style pool area with a clubhouse overlooking a 43-acre, man-made lake with a sand beach and lake house.

Both are just across Philips Highway from Nocatee, and its indisputable influence on neighborhood design. 

“The market is kind of demanding it keep pace with other communities,” Ervin said.

Planned communities with grand amenities are often marketed like all-inclusive resorts, Hicks said. But not everyone relishes the idea of moving to a vacation-like setting.

“It’s very subjective,” she said. “Either they want them and pay for them, or they don’t and go somewhere else.”

Developers design amenities with a certain demographic in mind, basing the features on the future homeowners’ stage of life — families with young children, active adults with no children, empty nesters and retirees.

Families with school-age children value the amenities the most.

They seek access to pools, soccer fields, art shows, clubhouses to host birthday parties and more.

“It really gives the feel of a community,” Hicks said. “With those kinds of amenities, you bond very, very fast with other moms and dads who want to the same thing for their families.”

Including fitness centers and designing walkable neighborhoods are vital across the demographic spectrum, according to Ervin.

So are dog parks, noting that pets are regarded as much a part of the family as everyone else.

“That’s something that customers today are looking for,” Ervin said. “Every community needs a place that’s designated for the animals.”

More recently, space for food trucks and neighborhood happy hours have moved up the list. Durbin Crossing in St. Johns County, for example, hosts “Food Truck Fridays” at one of its pools. 

“A number of years ago, it was the golf course with a clubhouse,” said Biagini, who helped build amenities at TrailMark in St. Johns County and Terra Costa in Jacksonville. “Now, the golf course is not as common, but folks still want a place to gather and be a community together.”

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