Market snapshot: DeSoto Acres


 PHOTO GALLERY: DeSoto Acres in Sarasota

The oldest subdivision established outside Sarasota's city limits is also one of the most unusual. Covering a one and a half mile area between Washington Boulevard and Lockwood Ridge Road just south of University Parkway, DeSoto Acres is the largest residential estate neighborhood in the county, both east and west of Interstate 75. Each of its 370 homes occupies a lot of at least two acres. The community's newsletter calls it "Country Estates in the Heart of Town."

Close enough.

The location is near the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, the Ringling Museum and all of the shopping and restaurant opportunities along University Parkway and in Lakewood Ranch's Main Street. Downtown Sarasota is just a 10-minute drive south.

RMARKET20T_8613005Its history is far longer than that of most subdivisions in the county.

DeSoto Acres was the brainchild of William Van Dame, a Chicago businessman who moved to Sarasota in 1923. During the Florida land boom, he bought large tracts in the northern part of the county. Active in the local chamber of commerce, he championed the city's future and brought many large investors to the city. He also was an avid golfer and one of the pioneers in the development of the Bobby Jones and the Sarasota Bay golf clubs.

He donated part of his land holdings for use as a recreational area and the site of the African-American Galilee Cemetery on the east side of Washington Boulevard, south of Myrtle Street.

His greatest accomplishment, however, was the construction of the local link of U.S. 301, connecting Tampa to downtown Sarasota.

His vision for what he called Van Dame Estates, most of which was later platted as DeSoto Acres, was unusual even at the time. An ad in the Sarasota Herald in 1928 touted 2- to 10-acre farm tracts "ideal for suburban homes — poultry ranches, small farming; half a mile to one mile from city limits; well drained; high and dry in all seasons. Rich soil that will produce anything grown in Florida." Some parcels were priced as low as $750.

Today, DeSoto Acres is a quiet, luxurious enclave with mature trees, lush vegetation and an abundance of wildlife. The large properties allow many residents to have horses — one likes to ride his buggy around the neighborhood.

Sam Miller — who built his home, a small, two-bedroom Florida bungalow, there in 1972 — remembers when University Parkway and the streets in the neighborhood were dirt roads.

"We like the serenity, the openness and the fact that we're at least 300 feet from our neighbors," he said. "It's far enough so we don't put our noses into other people's business, but close enough to help out if needed."

Miller recently retired as president of the homeowners' association. Like many of his neighbors, he has a vegetable garden in which he grows corn, green and lima beans, squash and okra. "We can our own, just like my aunt used to," he said.

But there is nothing quaint or old-fashioned about DeSoto Acres. According to Jane Paquette, the vice president of the homeowners' association, residents come from most social and economic strata.

"We have retirees, snowbirds, professors, lawyers, surgeons, plumbers and electricians, and families," she said. "Ten are from overseas, in Europe, and spend their winters here."

Because of its rich history, DeSoto Acres has homes from just about every decade over the past 90 years. Eight of the earliest dwellings — modest 1920 houses — are on Shade Avenue. Since most of the homes were custom-built to owners' specifications at the time, architectural styles, features, amenities and uses vary considerably.

Small 1950s and '60s block ranch houses sit next to two-story structures from the '70s and '80s. You can find block, stucco, wood siding and brick exteriors. There are even some modern edifices built within the last decade, as well and large five- and six-bedroom homes.

One home has 6,000 square feet under air at 2605 Desoto Road and is listed by Brandy Coffey, a Realtor with Keller Williams Luxury Homes International. It was built in the 1960s. The owner used it only to entertain her friends and installed two kitchens, one for the main part of the house and another in the rear with a commercial layout for the caterers for her parties. More recently, the home has been a small assisted-living facility.

Because of its generously sized properties — there are still some empty lots as well — DeSoto Acres is a magnet for developers wishing to change the density requirements for their benefit.

But the community is fiercely proud and protective of its special quality.

"The intent was always to have residential estates, and most people here agree with that," Miller said.

As a result, the HOA has attended a number of county commission meetings with a large force of residents in tow to plead its case. It won a resounding victory in May 2012 against a proposed change in land-use density.

"The developers have tried to back us up, but we have fought and prevailed," Miller said.

Paquette added, "We're a community that comes together to be able to plan for its future land use. We are working to increase our visibility and make clear to the rest of the world DeSoto Acres' uniqueness and benefits."

There are also efforts to reverse some of the effects of the recent realty downturn.

"Until then, we rarely had turnovers because people didn't want to leave — they like it here," Paquette said.

But a number of people bought at high prices and got caught by the bust. As a result of bank foreclosures and short sales, some properties look a bit rundown.

"We're slowly working our way out of it — it's harder to take care of a big property," Paquette said. "But we also help each other — people cut grass for those that can't."

Sales have been steady. In the past year and a half, there have been 15 transactions, ranging in price from $84,000 to $569,900. Inventory is low now, with only six active listings, priced from $280,000 to $524,900.


Last modified: July 20, 2013
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