What’s it like to be the new guy on the Ranch?
It was June 2016, and I looked at my then-pregnant wife, scanned the interior of our modest-but-lovely home in Sarasota, and I straight up panicked. “We need something ... bigger,” I said.
I ran the numbers. We had only recently moved to the area from Chicago and purchased our first home about a year prior. We both grew up in Chicago’s suburbs, and the city’s North Side was where we met, fell in love, married and raised a cat and a dog. After I started working remotely for IBM in 2013, we launched a coast-to-coast search for a new place to lay roots.
We left Chicago for all the typical reasons: The cold. The crime. The traffic. The inevitable heart attack triggered by the city’s fine food. But what we really sought was a sense of community — something that we longed for and lacked in our apartment steps from Wrigley Field.
“Call Keith,” Janet said.
Keith Redding, our tireless real estate agent, ran my chicken scratch numbers with the keen eye of someone who knows the area’s roller coaster market. To everyone’s surprise (especially mine, being the exact opposite of a math person), the numbers added up. We knew we could sell our place easily, but finding our ideal landing spot would prove more elusive. Our search stretched from Palmer Ranch to Lakewood Ranch, sending us on a Redfin-addled property hunt spanning two counties.
Lakewood Ranch kept rearing its head as an ideal destination. The top-notch schools, the amenities, the lifestyle. I’ll admit at first it seemed too far outside our comfort zone. We were city folk. We belonged (or so I thought) in an urban area with easy access to banh mi and whatever it is that people who used to do hot yoga are doing now.
Lakewood Ranch seemed far — not just physically but philosophically. I nearly vetoed any properties north of University Parkway.
Then Janet showed me the listing.
“You may not like it,” she said. “It’s pretty far.”
I agreed to take a look at what was soon to become our Greenbrook home. Nice floors. Nice pool. Potential for projects in the kitchen and bathrooms. We moved on Halloween 2016, and I remember my first impression as I set out to buy a second round of candy for the trick-or-treating hoards: I had no idea there were this many kids in all of Florida!
I can tell you the moment I was officially sold, and it came well after we had purchased the home. I was driving on Hidden River Trail, and for some reason I was in a hurry, a fact that didn’t matter to the three sandhill cranes dawdling down the middle of the road. As I sat in my car and inched forward, careful not to disturb their methodical strut, it dawned on me that this wasn’t a mistake — that part of living here means slowing down and actually taking in the natural beauty around you.
We recently learned that Lakewood Ranch is the third best-selling planned community in the country. This is a designation we don’t take lightly, and certainly one that we deem well deserved.
When I talk to our neighbors, some of whom were here before my house was even a glint in a builder’s eye, one refrain persists.
“When we moved here, there was nothing,” they say.
No Publix on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. No University Town Center. No Wawa. Lorraine Road was fields and cows and horses and gators — period.
Now, there’s an Earth Fare and in a couple months, LA Fitness. There are plans for a massive medical park, which will bring high paying jobs, which will bring high paying homeowners, which will likely inspire some of my neighbors to do their own chicken scratch math in the years to come.
As we all know, progress means change, and change brings grousing. The speed limit on State Road 70 was knocked down to 50 mph. Blame the traffic, blame Earth Fare, blame the impending medical park. Like it or not, progress is the norm, and it’s what we signed up for.
In some circles, progress is a four-letter word, but I’ve found that here it’s mostly welcome. There’s a sense that something exciting is afoot.
Janet and I had the privilege of growing up in special towns that established our understanding of the word “community.” We picked Lakewood Ranch because we wanted to give our daughter a similar childhood and instill in her the same profound sense of place that we only came to appreciate later in life.
At the same time, we recognize this gem won’t stay hidden forever (if it ever was). Development is happening to the south and to the north. And if Publix has its way, we’ll never be more than a 9-iron swing from its siren-calling sandwiches.
Change is coming to this area. And whenever change comes, you’re faced with two options: embrace it or fight it. Someday, we’ll be the neighbors who say, “Back when we moved here ... ” For now, we’re just happy to be a part of the fabric. It may have been panic that brought us here, but it’s the promise of the future that inspires us to stay.