The Lee County politics of 2015 ushered in the current era of housing growth along Corkscrew Road, east of Interstate 75 and Ben Hill Griffin Parkway. An 81,607-acre area that for 25 years allowed one new home per 10 acres suddenly shifted with a 2015 Lee County commissioners’ vote, then allowing one house per acre. The Density Reduction/Groundwater Recharge Area (DR/GR) evolved to become the county’s “Environmental Overlay.” It allows for the greater housing density if home developers preserve at least 55% of their lands for conservation and keep 60% of lands as open space. Current Lee County commissioners Cecil Pendergrass and Brian Hamman voted for the change. Commissioner Frank Mann voted against it. Developers rolled with the changes. An area that once had fewer than 500 new homes built during a 25-year period has had more than 6,000 new homes either built or planned over the past six years.
The rapid growth has created traffic jams in the corridor. This prompted a $52 million widening of Corkscrew Road on a 4.4-mile stretch; the project began April 26 and should be finished in the fall of 2023. The road will expand to six lanes from Ben Hill Griffin Parkway east to Fire House Lane and then shift to four lanes east to Alico Road.
Cameratta Companies has been spearheading the residential growth with four new developments. Corkscrew Shores, with 647 single-family homes on a 250-acre lake, sold out. The Preserve at Corkscrew has 421 homes. The Place at Corkscrew will have 1,325 single-family homes and is nearing completion. Up next: Verdana Village, which has a planned buildout of 2,400 homes. The land there used to be a citrus farm.
“We’re starting from Corkscrew Road and working our way south,” says Nick Cameratta, chief operating officer of Cameratta Companies. “The environmental enhancements will be a huge benefit for that area. We’ll restore those historic flowways. It’s cleaning and purifying the water quality. We’re planting hundreds of thousands of trees.”
Verdana Village also will have a Publix-anchored shopping center, about six miles east of I-75.
“It’s challenging,” Cameratta says. “To be honest with you, it’s also exciting. It’s exciting to build something from the ground up. It’s exciting to create a development and a lifestyle that’s truly unique and different from all the other communities.”
Cameratta Companies has plenty of competition. Also in the planning stages is what for now is being called FFD Planned Development. What a landowner had wanted to become a rock mine on the south side of Corkscrew Road, just east of where Alico Road intersects, instead will become 5,208 homes and dwelling units. Those will be spread across 1,823 acres, because the other 3,385 acres (65%) will be designated as conservation lands.
Nearby WildBlue plans 1,096 homes, about half of which have been built or are under contract. Lennar, PulteGroup and Stock Development are the home builders in WildBlue, which was purchased for $27.5 million in December 2017.
More on Different Avenues
Cameron Murray, 53, and a real estate broker with Team One Source, has lived in WildBlue for about a year. “WildBlue, I just knew when they were building it that it would be a special place,” Murray says. “I love how they have that peninsula that’s surrounded by water with that gym and that country club with the tennis courts.”
For Murray, living on a 600-acre lake that’s up to 40 feet deep—the legacy of a former limestone rock mine—drew him to WildBlue from Bonita Springs. “Everything has moved out here with Miromar Outlets and Gulf Coast Town Center,” Murray says of shopping. “Now that I live there and have flown out of the airport, it’s amazing. I go out the back gate, and then I’m at the airport. And then you’ve got Corkscrew. It’s a real plus, this development.
“But the main thing here is the lake. This is all about lake living. I’ve got a boat and a boat dock. We’ll ride right over to the club. Bass fishing is amazing; it’s some of the best bass fishing ever. Blue gill, bass and tilapia.”
Just east of Wild Blue lies Corkscrew Estates. The Pulte Homes development will have 59 houses, each built on about an acre of land. “We’re especially excited about this community because of its uniqueness and its location,” says Josh Graeve, the vice president of sales for Southwest Florida with Pulte Homes.
At Corkscrew Estates, Pulte does not require any Community Development District (CDD) fees. Graeve said the homeowners’ association fees would be kept low. The idea, he explained, was for the homeowners to choose their own amenities in their homes: media rooms, lofts, pools and what Pulte is calling a “casita,” a detached bed/bath/office type of living space. “There’s tremendous flexibility into putting your own amenities into your homes,” Graeve says. “It’s going to be a community unlike any other.”
Pulte bought the 59 acres in November 2020 for $8.5 million. “When Pulte purchased those properties, we put water and sewer in there,” Graeve says. “Prior to that, it was planned as a well and septic community. By bringing natural gas, water and sewer and fiber [optics], we brought this community into the 21st century.
“I think over the years, as Naples and Fort Myers continue to grow and grow together, Corkscrew Road and Estero has become the center hub. It’s the center for dining and restaurants. As a result, the new construction and the land opportunities have allowed for some incredible communities with great amenities. It just adds an appeal to active adults, empty nesters and family buyers.”
The Corkscrew Road corridor, one of the fastest growing in Lee County, is maintained by the county’s Department of Transportation, except for the road’s interchange with Interstate 75 at Exit 123, which is maintained by the Florida DOT.
Traffic is expected to increase along Corkscrew Road because of the booming home construction, new business destinations and truck traffic from mining operations. With the predicted population growth, changes and improvements are desperately needed for the eastern part of Corkscrew Road, reported the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL), the civic advocacy organization instrumental in the village’s incorporation. ECCL anticipates that there will be more than 12,000 homes and 25,000 residents along eastern Corkscrew Road by 2025.
Lee County officials broke ground this spring on the first phase of a Corkscrew widening project that will create a six-lane, divided arterial road from Ben Hill Griffin Parkway east to Fire House Lane, and a four-lane divided arterial road from Fire House Lane east to Bella Terra Boulevard, allowing future expansion to six lanes. County commissioners awarded a contract for the $23.3 million project in March to Fort Myers-based Cougar Contracting. A second phase, which will extend the widening project east to Alico Road, will require some land acquisition. Total project costs for both phases, including design, land acquisition, construction and inspection, is expected to be more than $50 million.
In addition to I-75, Corkscrew Road is intersected by Three Oaks Parkway and is the southern terminus for Ben Hill Griffin Parkway and Alico Road. Also known as County Road 850, Corkscrew stretches 21 miles east from U.S. 41 near Coconut Point mall to State Road 82, midway between Immokalee and Felda. The more than 4 miles of Corkscrew Road that are the most developed so far are within the village of Estero, which marks the seventh anniversary of its incorporation at the end of this month.
COMMERCIAL CONSTRUCTION COMING
Following the jaw-dropping residential growth on Corkscrew Road, commercial activity is filling in the gaps in an effort to quickly bring amenities to the folks beneath these rooftops. It may seem like this growth happened overnight, but it has been on the books and drawing boards for years.
“The most substantial growth on Corkscrew has occurred east of 75. So, rooftop growth has been explosive. All of that has driven continued growth on both sides,” says Dan O’Berski, principal broker at Trinity Commercial Group (TCG), which has had its offices near Estero Village Hall on Corkscrew Road for five years.
Commercial development always follows residential development, O’Berski said. “The rooftops help justify the commercial,” he says. “So it provides the strength for all the commercial uses. Until people live there, people don’t shop there.”
TCG advisers are behind leasing efforts at The Shoppes at Verdana Village and Estero Crossings, two new Corkscrew Road retail projects being built on either side of I-75. Publix Super Market, which follows changes in future land-use maps to stay on the front end of development, will anchor The Shoppes at Verdana Village, east of the interstate.
“They are making sure they are in place to serve their clients in advance,” O’Berski says. The Verdana Village Publix will be more than 6 miles east of the Publix supermarket in The Shoppes at Grand Oak across from Miromar Outlets.
The new Publix and adjacent Publix Liquor store will occupy nearly 50,000 square feet of the 78,000-square-foot development divided between two buildings available for lease as well as additional outparcels. Heartland Dental also plans an office in The Shoppes at Verdana Village, a project by WMG Development that is targeted to open in late 2023.
Meanwhile, Stock Development is behind Estero Crossing, a mixed-use project that recently broke ground on 42 acres on the south side of Corkscrew Road between Three Oaks Parkway and I-75. Before the undeveloped lot was cleared, a large billboard there along eastbound Corkscrew promoted WildBlue, the massive development being built from Corkscrew Road to Alico Road. “Coming Soon. New Homes from the $400s to over $4 Million,” the white type on a blue background read.
Estero Crossing will feature a 306-unit luxury apartment community and 60,000 square feet of pedestrian-friendly retail space with brick-paver walks and benches. “It’s such a creative, well-done project,” O’Berski says, praising Brian Stock and Keith Gelder of Stock Development for staying the course to get the project off the ground in the village. “They curated something that I think the village of Estero is going to be really excited about by the time it’s here.”
Oak & Stone, Chicken Salad Chick and Crisp & Green restaurants, as well as Sherwin-Williams paint store, are already coming to Estero Crossing, and more leases are out for execution, O’Berski said. Chicken Salad Chick and Crisp & Green, while chains, are businesses run by local operators who have chosen a proven concept. “They’re vested much like a mom-and-pop. If the community can remember that, too,” he says. “They just have found a concept that they believe in, that they love and they want to share with their community.”
Just west of Estero Crossing, Wawa is pursuing plans for a convenience store and gas station in Lowe’s-anchored Estero Town Commons. Formerly considering a 2.6-acre outlot at Corkscrew and Three Oaks, Wawa now has its eye on the space the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain vacated in March 2020 near the center’s entrance off Corkscrew. On the other side of Corkscrew Road, Naples-based Mr. Tequila Mexican restaurant recently moved into the location permanently shuttered by Applebee’s in spring 2020.
Service-oriented and food-related businesses are still needed and coming to Corkscrew Road, O’Berski said. These include neighborhood-related businesses he calls “quasi-Amazon-proof,” such as home improvement stores, grocery stores, ancillary-service stores, medical, banks, restaurants and entertainment. “Those are the types of categories that are going to continue to grow in the current environment,” he says. “The things that have a lot of human interaction are going to be the categories that are still going to thrive.”