WEST MELBOURNE — Bouncing in a black Ford Super Duty truck along a rutted dirt lane in the forest, Jake Wise emerged into an immense, man-made clearing bustling with bulldozers, dump trucks and earth-moving equipment.
This sprawling 508-acre wooded tract off Minton Road had sat idle since 2005, when the previous owner secured a preliminary plat to build a large-scale housing development. That project vanished from view, stalled after Brevard County’s real-estate market tanked.
But now, D.R. Horton is shaping this site as Sawgrass Lakes, a 933-unit development that will feature an elementary school, gated neighborhoods and thousands of new West Melbourne residents.
For comparison’s sake, Sawgrass Lakes encompasses 0.8 of a square mile. The town of Indialantic is 1.05 square miles, while Indian Harbour Beach measures 2 square miles
“Brevard County’s been developed sporadically over decades of time. As far as master-planned communities, this is one of a kind. I don’t think there’s anything else like it out there,” said Wise, a principal with Construction Engineering Group, watching the rumbling earth-moving machines.
Tuesday morning, roughly 40 people gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at a dirt clearing at Minton Road and Norfolk Parkway, the entrance to the future development. Space Coast officials and dignitaries with gold-painted shovels posed for photos in front of a yellow Caterpillar bulldozer.
D.R. Horton is the nation’s biggest homebuilder, and Sawgrass Lakes is its largest East Florida development. Applying the standard 2.6 people per household used by demographers, Sawgrass Lakes stands to boost West Melbourne’s population by 13 percent, from 18,362 to 20,788 residents when fully built.
Building plans for the first three model homes should be approved in the next week or two, City Manager Scott Morgan said. D.R. Horton Division President Keith Williams hopes the first houses will be constructed and sold before the end of June.
Single-family homes will occupy lots 50, 75 and 85 feet wide, with prices ranging from the high $100,000s to more than half a million dollars.
Williams estimated the project will require “several hundred” construction workers during its years of development.
“It’ll bring a lot of jobs — not only construction people, but the offshoot of that. All the restaurants and movie theaters and day-care centers around here will prosper from that as well,” Mayor Hal Rose said Tuesday.
Within 60 days, crews will begin extending two lanes of Norfolk Parkway westward toward the hidden-from-view construction area. Norfolk Parkway winds through the Hammock Landing shopping center between Palm Bay and Minton roads.
Years from now, officials plan to extend Norfolk Parkway so it links with the future St. Johns Heritage Parkway, which is slated for construction across the adjacent Platt Ranch.
Williams said the builder will seek permitting to install a clock tower entryway off Minton Road.
In addition to the 933 homes, the Sawgrass Lakes preliminary plat also depicts two public roads, six private roads, two large borrow-pit lakes, seven recreation tracts, nine wetland tracts, 11 landscaping tracts and 29 stormwater tracts.