The pool and amenities center at Gran Paradiso.

The West Villages is a bit difficult to explain. There’s a West Villages Improvement District, then there are communities surrounding it that aren’t actually part of it—but really are. Suffice it to say that they—“they” being some of the country’s (and Canada’s) largest home builders—are creating an enormous residential area in a previously empty space between Venice and North Port that when finished will have a larger population than the city of Sarasota. The West Villages is already the fifth fastest-growing master-planned community in the country.

Rather like Parrish, it will be a gathering of gated communities, each one by a different developer, and well priced enough to have enormous appeal. And also like Parrish, the commuting situation isn’t bad, although Tampa (84 miles) would be a stretch. Unlike Parrish, there is no quaint old town to deal with. This was a cattle ranch, so nobody’s complaining.

Buyers want golf and good weather. 

The West Villages is still very much in the building stage, although people are living there. The other day I saw a golf cart being delivered to a very excited active retiree. But it’s hard to get a handle on the whole thing. The shopping situation hasn’t really kicked in yet, and a lot of amenities still have the word “future” in front of them. There isn’t anything to see, other than the various gated communities, which will welcome you with open arms to their sales offices.

Comparing and contrasting anywhere from four to 15 model homes in seven different communities is such a sensory overload that I’m afraid the West Villages is a blur.  I do remember that Caribbean Village (D.R. Horton) has some nice affordable homes ($280,000 to $340,000), and Sarasota National ($270,000-$567,000) has a nice golf course. Gran Paradiso ($270,000-$570,000) goes a little over the top with the Italian imagery.

And of course, there’s the inevitable Neal community. West Villages has one of the best, Grand Palm. The houses are nice, but the gestalt of the whole thing is what interests me. These tidy, well-designed communities—each a little different but basically all the same—are becoming the way we live now.

Sales offices and golf carts are everywhere.

The houses themselves are the result of years of learning what people want, and yes, everything I wanted was there: two-car garage, mudroom, fancy master bath, high ceilings, open plan, neighbors in back well hidden. There was something inspirational about the way they were decorated. You could tell from the look on people’s faces as they walked through the door. 

While touring model homes I paid close attention to my fellow visitors. You can learn a lot this way. Irene and Mack, a couple in their 60s from Wisconsin, were looking for a retirement home. How did they hear about the West Villages? “From friends who live in Venice,” Irene told me. And what do you think? “Terrific,” Irene replied. Pause. “Except for all the construction.”

Another group turned out to be four siblings from New Jersey, all around 40 or so. They were scouting a retirement place for their folks, one which they could all use for extended family vacations. They were energetically running from model to model, comparing floor plans and options. “It doesn’t seem a little out of the way to you?” I asked and received a blank stare. The fact that it wasn’t a short stroll from art galleries and the opera didn’t register with these folks. It had exactly what they wanted: a brand-new house with a great layout at a great price, nearby beaches, golf, fishing, spring training, and most of all, great winter weather. That’s what Florida is all about to the residents of the newest—and soon to be biggest—town in Sarasota County. 

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