Tousa Inc. looks to sell area subdivisions


Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Laura Kinsler

Published December 16, 2009

SAN ANTONIO - Homeowners in three local subdivisions are buzzing about Bradenton-based Starwood Land Ventures' bid to takeover their subdivisions from their bankrupt developer.

Homebuilder Tousa Inc. will sell its Florida assets for $61.1 million to Starwood Land Ventures LLC, unless a better offer surfaces at an auction set for Jan. 22.

"I certainly think it's good news," said Frank Micallef, president of Live Oak Preserve's homeowners association. "That's what we need. We want them to sell those lots."

After Tousa decided to stop constructing new homes and sell the assets, it solicited offers for the almost 3,500 home sites in Florida where construction hadn't yet begun. About 1,000 of those lots are in the Tampa market -- New Tampa's Live Oak Preserve and The Hammocks and in Pasco County's Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club.

Although other offers were received, the subsidiary of Greenwich-based Starwood Capital Group LLC had the best proposal, to be tested at auction. The agreement includes 36 completed model homes.

Tousa wants other bids for the Florida assets by Jan. 15. The hearing to approve procedures for auction and sale hasn't yet been fixed.

Betsy Hubbard lives in the Phase 2 section of Live Oak Preserve, which still has about 500 undeveloped lots. She said her neighborhood association fees went up this year because the developer is no longer helping to pay for the streetlights.

"Our main concern here in Phase 2 is that not even half of Sterling Oak Village, where I live, is completed," Hubbard said. "We're hoping that Starwood will come in and will be paying the assessments, but we don't know if they will be compelled to pay them."

All three of the TOUSA communities have undergone their own share of turmoil since the company acquired the developments from Transeastern Homes in 2005. The Hammocks still has 200 undeveloped lots. Of the 300 town houses that were completed, 38 percent are in some form of foreclosure, resident Jose Ramirez said.

The developer relinquished control of the homeowners' association and community development district board this year for the Live Oak Preserve.

But TOUSA appointees still control the Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club HOA and voted last month to raise homeowners' fees by nearly $70 per month. The bulk of those fees - $3.16 million goes to pay for the golf course and country club, which are still operated by the original developer, the Falcone Group.

"I'm hoping Starwood gets it because they seem to have deep pockets, and because it's not Falcone," said Domenic Gualtieri, a homeowner and activist in Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club.

Gualtieri has sued the homeowners' association, saying the residents should not have to pay fees to the Falcone Group because there is no written contract between the golf club and the association.

Ray Proch, who chairs the neighborhood association's Presidents' Council, said the Starwood bid is good news for residents in the bitterly divided community. "I would guess that if they're making an investment of that nature, they would want to start construction quickly," Proch said. "It would behoove Starwood to get an agreement with the Falcone Group and the clubhouse as to fees."