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    Living Large, by Design, in the Middle of Nowhere
    Published: August 15, 2005
    WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. - New River Township is, for the moment, the edge of beyond.

    Its square mile of tightly packed homes is the outer crest of Tampa's residential swell, four miles from the nearest grocery store and 30 minutes from the nearest major mall. Just down the road, beyond some orange groves, cattle graze languorously amid the insect hum of a sun-baked field, and only a few mobile home parks and a roadside stand selling tiki huts interrupt the vast sea of pine, palmetto and dense thatch.

    The Breuer family, standing from left, Monica, Andrew and Yolanda, and J. J., seated, with their dogs at their home in New River. A move from Tampa meant improvements like more square footage and a larger master bedroom.
    Far and Away
    America’s Newest Suburbs
    This is the first in a series of articles that will examine life in America's most far-flung suburbs.
    In the New River community the houses resemble those of suburbs from the past, except they are larger and closer together. Developers have done surveys to determine what potential owners want.
    But it will be a short-lived isolation. More than three dozen other communities in Pasco County, some bigger than New River, are in the works, promising 100,000 new homes in the next five years. A megamall is coming. And the first of the big-box stores, a Home Depot and a Sam's Club, had their gala openings not long ago.

    "It used to be just us and the retirees," said Ruth Parker, who was busy decorating a new child care center at the edge of New River, a part of Wesley Chapel, where she has lived for nine years. "Five years from now, there will be a city here."

    America is growing. And it is growing the fastest here, at the farm-road margins of metropolitan areas, with planned communities sprouting up and becoming a prime focus, almost a fetish, for election strategists from both major parties.

    Such places do not sprout by happenstance. Driven by irresistible economic forces and shaped by subtly shifting social patterns, they are being created, down to the tiniest detail, by a handful of major developers with a master plan for the new America. In the case of New River, that developer is KB Home, one of the nation's biggest and most profitable builders with $7 billion in sales last year, which helped make it sixth among all Standard & Poor's 500 companies in total revenues.

    KB Home has 483 communities under development in 13 states and expects to complete more than 40,000 new homes this year. Yet it is just one of about two dozen such corporate giants fiercely competing for land and customers at the edge of America's suburban expanse.

    Poring over elaborate market research, these corporations divine what young families want, addressing things like carpet texture and kitchen placement and determining how many streetlights and cul-de-sacs will evoke a soothing sense of safety.

    They know almost to the dollar how much buyers are willing to pay to exchange a longer commute for more space, a sense of higher status and the feeling of security.

    "You bring people out here, and they say, man, look at all this open space," said Marshall Gray, president of KB's Tampa division. "But I assure you, there are deals in the works for virtually every significant piece of ground you can see out here."

    Over the next decade, New River will expand to 1,800 acres and be home to 15,000 people living in 4,800 single-family homes, condominiums, town houses and rental units. It will have a 200-acre town center with 180,000 square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of commercial space, schools, government offices and a 207-acre park.

    At the moment, though, it is nothing more than an island of 400 suburban homes in the middle of nowhere, an infant exurb.

    The term "exurb" was coined in the 1950's in "The Exurbanites" by A. C. Spectorsky, a social historian, to describe semirural areas far outside cities where wealthy people had country estates. The exurbs of the 21st century are a different animal. And they are not the same as the older rings of closer suburbs.

    The homes in exurbs are generally larger and the space between them smaller. They tend to turn their backs to the street, with the biggest and most used rooms in the rear. And the people who live in them are different. Instead of the all-white enclaves of the 1960's and 70's, the new exurbs are a mélange of colors and cultures.

    A Different Kind of Flight

    "In one sense, these exurbs are just suburbs that take a longer time to drive to," said John Husing, a political and economic consultant in California. "With these, white flight has nothing to do with it. It's all housing prices. The makeup of these communities is a reflection of who's migrating, and that's people who have enough money to be middle class."

    Look deep into the history of many of the new exurbs, and an entrepreneurial character like Beat (pronounced BAY-at) Kahli, an Orlando-based developer, can often be found.
    No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true
    President George W. Bush, March 21, 2006

    I'm a war president
    President George W. Bush, February 8, 2004

  • #2
    The son of a baker from a Zurich suburb, Mr. Kahli abandoned his dream of racing in the Tour de France when he realized that he would never be fast enough. Instead, he went to business school in Zurich and became an investment banker.

    Enlarge This Image

    Richard Patterson for The New York Times
    Beat Kahli, a community developer, in Avalon Park, east of Orlando, Fla. It is the largest of his housing developments.
    Far and Away
    America’s Newest Suburbs
    This is the first in a series of articles that will examine life in America's most far-flung suburbs.

    Forum: U.S. Cities
    In 1989, Flag Development, a consortium based in Fort Myers, Fla., bought the land that is becoming New River from a farming family, as well as an even larger tract on the far east side of Orlando. It approached Mr. Kahli about investing in Florida real estate, and he and some other Europeans bought in.

    But in 1993, with his investors eager for results, Mr. Kahli, 41, came to Central Florida and was stunned.

    "I thought, oh my gosh, what have we done?" Mr. Kahli said. "On the map, these places looked like they were not so far from Disney World and the Kennedy Space Center, but I saw that they were actually way, way out in the middle of nowhere."

    In the recession of the early 90's, it was impractical to think of developing such remote properties, Mr. Kahli said. But as the economy improved, he decided he could transform the property outside Tampa and the huge tract east of Orlando into major communities.

    "Most people in Florida are from someplace else," said Mr. Kahli, a rotund and ebullient man with an infectious delight in what he has built. "I was just from someplace a little farther away. Everyone was very accepting of me. There is no way an American could go to where I lived in Switzerland and be accepted in this way."

    Mr. Kahli bought out his European investors, brought in some new American backers, and came away owning 82 percent of the deal. In 1996, he moved to Florida, first to Fort Lauderdale, where he met his wife, and then to Avalon Park, his development east of Orlando. He now lives in nearby Winter Park in a home with a swimming pool and a five-car garage, a millionaire pillar of the community who sits on the board of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.

    "These are normal homes for normal people," Mr. Kahli said as he steered his gleaming black BMW along Avalon Park's winding lanes like an admiral in his flagship.

    He pointed out the schools and the stadium that he helped the county build, and the town center where he owns two restaurants and the local weekly newspaper, the East Orlando Sun, for which he writes a column. Just outside the development is a cement plant, the first of seven he built around the state, making him the co-owner of the largest independent concrete contractor in Florida.

    Sometimes developments like Avalon Park grow in unincorporated areas of remote, rural counties. Sometimes they fall within the boundaries of old towns, where they offer tax revenues but bring the challenge of providing services. Often, when they grow large enough, they become cities.

    Avalon Park comprises 14 interconnected "villages" around a town center. Its residents, Mr. Kahli said, are mostly young families, with an average of almost three children per household.

    When the project is finished in five years, he said, 15,000 people will live there. Already, the town center has cafes, beauty parlors, a gas station and a sprawling supermarket. Fresh banks of condominiums sprout on its periphery.

    "This is what New River will look like in five years," Mr. Kahli said.

    But it looks nothing like that now. Drive up Interstate 275 from the shimmering towers of downtown Tampa, past the old clapboard neighborhoods and the greyhound track, until the strip-mall muddle thins, and there is an endless canyon of pine and palmetto. Only billboards relieve the monotony, and at least half of them extol the new housing developments: "A new standard for luxury." "Own from the low $200's." Just before it enters Pasco, the county that sits like a hat atop metropolitan Tampa Bay, I-275 meets I-75. Two exits farther north is the ramp for Route 54.

    "They used to say that you went to Tampa to visit your parents, and you went to Pasco to visit your grandparents," said Mr. Gray, of KB Home. "Pasco was the realm of the nearly dead and the newlywed."
    No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true
    President George W. Bush, March 21, 2006

    I'm a war president
    President George W. Bush, February 8, 2004