Sylvan Lea means “wooded meadow,” and the neighborhood more than lives up to its name. Densely forested, it looks as if someone put a small residential enclave smack in the middle of Myakka State Park, keeping as many trees as possible.
Ancient-looking, gnarled oak trees, covered with moss and bromeliads, as well as mature palms and pines form a canopy for the narrow roads and the 51 homes, providing shade and cooling in the summer months. There is ample shrubbery, and most of the yards are dotted with green ferns or other low groundcovers, such as dwarf jasmine. Wildlife abounds, including nattering squirrels, owls and hawks.
The reason for Sylvan Lea’s special charm is that its developer, Dr. Cary Jay Morrison, a dentist and Florida native, loved the pristine Florida jungle. (He owned property on Longboat Key, too.)
“He treated trees like his children,” says Kim Gilliland, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co. “Spots where the road normally should go one way have turns going another to save a tree that was in the way.”
Gilliland and his wife, Patty, have lived in Sylvan Lee on and off since 1987, most recently since 2006, and love it there. They have sold the last three homes listed in the neighborhood.
According to Gilliland, Morrison is also responsible for the many, tree-covered islands separating the driving lanes throughout the neighborhood. He put center drains with gutters in the roads, alleviating the need for ditches on either side and preserving even more of the “old Florida” surroundings.
Morrison also put conditions on which trees had to be saved when property owners built their homes. Apparently, he sued one owner for cutting down palm trees that were on the protected list.
Another unique legacy of his is that the enclave has its own private sewer company. Sarasota County put in water lines in the late 1980s, but residents continue to rely on sewer services from Sylvan Lea Utilities, which has its facilities in the northeast corner of the subdivision.
Morrison died in 2012 at age 87, but his foundation, the Cary Jay Morrison Trust, continues to support local causes, notably the Sarasota Museum of Art under the aegis of Ringling College of Art + Design.
While Morrison was a champion of old-Florida vegetation, he did not want uniformity of appearance. All the homes all look different. There are examples of ranch houses, two-story cottages with a New England flavor, California contemporary homes with cedar siding and Florida contemporaries from the 1980s with cathedral ceilings. “There is nice architectural diversity,” says Gilliland.
One modern-looking home for sale is listed by Clete Miller, also a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co. The house, on 2077 Misty Sunrise Trail, is a two-story, wood-frame residence with 20-foot ceilings, 2,528 square feet of living space, and a large, second-story balcony overlooking the backyard. Built in 1985, it is priced at $389,000.
Miller likes Sylvan Lea for its tranquility and seclusion. “It’s so peaceful and quiet, you feel like you’re living in the country,” he says.
Mandatory homeowners’ association fees are $300 a year and go toward improving the infrastructure. The roads, which are private, have recently been repaved, and the stone wall and sign at the entrance to the community has been redone.
While Sylvan Lea many be hidden, it is not too far off the beaten track. The Celery Fields Park and the new Audubon Society Center on Palmer Blvd are within walking distance. Shopping and restaurant opportunities are nearby on Fruitville Road to the north and Bee Ridge and Cattleman roads to the south.
Even downtown Sarasota is only a 20-minute drive.
Residents are a mix of retirees, working professionals and families with children. The district schools are Tatum Ridge Elementary, McIntosh Middle and Sarasota High.
Because of its small size and attractiveness, homeowners stay for some time, and houses don’t come on the market that often. In the past year, only one home sold, for $300,000. Currently there are two active listings, Miller’s property and a ranch-style residence, represented by Steve Perez of Michael Saunders & Co., for $345,000.
“If you like living in a wooded refuge, Sylvan Lea is phenomenal,” says Miller.