Market snapshot: South Venice

Homes along Alligator Creek in South Venice. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

Homes along Alligator Creek in South Venice. (Staff photo / Harold Bubil)

In 1952, two brothers from New Jersey bought 3,300 acres of scrub land south of the City of Venice. Forming an alliance with the Venice Area Chamber of Commerce, Warren and Arthur Smadbeck created the South Venice subdivision. It was the first large-scale post-World War II development in the region.

Today, South Venice is the largest subdivision in Sarasota County, with more than 7,000 homes and more than 100 vacant lots. But in the pioneer days, the area was called “The Woods,” and consisted of a dense, longleaf yellow pine forest. During the 1920s housing boom, it was logged out and the timber was milled in a small town called Woodmere just to the south. Palmettos and oaks replaced the dense pine forest and The Woods became a favorite hunting ground. Residents also gathered crabs and turtles on the beach and fished for mullet.

The Smadbeck brothers platted the area around Alligator Creek between Lemon Bay and the Tamiami Trail and what is now the beginning of Englewood Road, as well as a section on the east side of U.S. 41. They divided the land into 19,587 parcels, each with 40 feet of frontage. They also deeded 1,600 feet of beach to the new community.

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Construction went on in three shifts for almost two years to create 95 miles of shell roads throughout the neighborhood. A national campaign offering lots for $200 a piece was a wild success, creating one of the biggest land booms in Florida history. The subdivision sold out within two years. Many people bought sight-unseen. One Realtor claimed she sold 350 lots in one day.

Buyers had to purchase a minimum of two abutting lots, and no more than five, but many got around that by purchasing five more under the names of various family members.

Still, by the mid-1960s only a smattering of homes had been built. Those who had moved there had some of the fierce, independent spirit of the early pioneers. They valued their privacy and ownership.

So when the Army Corps of Engineers demolished the wooden bridges to the beach in the 1960s in anticipation of building the Intracoastal Waterway — “The Big Ditch,” as everyone called it then — the residents sued and won, guaranteeing them beach access “in perpetuity.”

A settlement of $150,000 was used to build a dock and buy a small boat to ferry residents to the beach. It runs every half hour, 9 a.m. to sunset, all year. Open to the public — with purchase of a pass — it is popular for beach outings. During the winter months, beach-goers line up with beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers.

“The people who use it, love it,” said Laraine Jansen, a board member of the South Venice Beach Trust.

Purchased in 1970, the “Miss South Venice” ferry has been showing signs of age in recent years, so it will be replaced with a new, larger boat in October. “We’re all very excited about that,” Jansen said.

During the 1980s, the trust swapped beach property with Sarasota County to create 1,300 feet of continuous beachfront, which joins up with Casperson Beach to the north and Casey Key to the south. The beach is pristine — no restrooms, trash cans or gazebos.

“It’s barebones out there, but it’s wild and beautiful and secluded,” Jansen said.

The community also has several parks, including Shamrock and Challenger, and five natural lakes. Foliage is lush and mature throughout, with scenic mangroves along the Intracoastal Waterway. Birds and wildlife abound.

The subdivision also is home to the Senior Friendship Center, a facility for Habitat for Humanity, and the South Venice Yacht Club, a social club.

“It is probably the only yacht club in the United States that has no boats,” Jansen said with a smile, “but there are kayakers and water skiers on Alligator Creek.”

Joe Hayden has lived in South Venice since 1988. Now a Realtor with RE/MAX, Hayden started out as a developer and built 150 houses, including his own, in the neighborhood.

“When I got here, there were ‘No Hunting’ signs, and some of the roads were still covered with shells,” he recalled.

Because of the way the community developed, it is architecturally diverse. Small, two-bedroom ranches from the 1950s and ’60s sit next to more recently built two-story homes and elevated houses along the creek. New construction is going on, as well.

Residents are as eclectic a mix as the architecture: retirees, entrepreneurs, working professionals and younger couples with children.

“It’s a very family-friendly place, but we have a lot of snowbirds. Our population drops 40 percent the day after Easter,” said Kelley Ann Ayers, president of the South Venice Civic Association and a Realtor with Exit King Realty.

Ayers said she loves living in the community. “You can walk or bike to the beach. Everything you need is on the corner of 41 and Jacaranda Boulevard, including restaurants, shops, banks and the court house.”

Although active, the homeowners’ association fell on hard times during the recession, when membership dropped from 1,000 to 300. It is looking forward to rebuilding so it can continue to help improve the community.

The recession hit South Venice hard in other ways, too: A substantial number of foreclosures and short sales still exist here. But there are signs of a rebound.

“Typically, about 30 homes a month sell to actual buyers — not foreclosures — and that figure has been consistent for a couple of years,” Ayres said.

Inventory is low at the moment. Only 88 active listings are active and 60 sales are pending. Prices range from $80,000 properties — many of them fixer-uppers — to $270,000 homes, and there are a few beyond $400,000. The highest is listed at $555,000.

“It’s a very dynamic market,” Hayden said. “If something is priced well, it will sell quickly.”


Last modified: September 28, 2013
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