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The great city planner John Nolen was way ahead of his time 90 years ago when he mapped out a plan for the then-new city of Venice that stressed walkability and human scale, with distinct neighborhoods built around playgrounds or parks—all within strolling distance of a few-blocks-long shopping district along Venice Avenue.

Today, while the huge new master-planned developments planned for east and south Venice are grabbing all the headlines—6,000 homes are forecast to be built within the next 10 years in northeast Venice alone, says city manager Ed Lavallee—a quiet building boomlet is taking place on the historic Island of Venice. Bounded on the west by the Gulf of Mexico and on the east by the Intracoastal Waterway, with great natural beauty and an increasingly lively restaurant and shopping scene, it’s the most desirable part of a very desirable city, thanks to Nolen’s original vision.

Here’s a look at what’s happening on the island:

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Tra Ponti Villagio is a development of 19 single-family courtyard homes and four three-story townhomes being built on the Intracoastal between Venice and Tampa avenues. (Tra Ponti means “between the bridges” in Italian.) Marc Smith of MPS Contractors is the developer.  Construction on three models was slated to begin in September, with completion in March.

The site—adjacent to the mid-rise Waterfront on Venice Island condos built between 2004 and 2007 by developer Mike Miller, who is working with Smith on this project—was  originally planned for a hotel and four-story condominium complex before the Great Recession. The plans were changed, says Miller, because, “We felt that fee-simple ownership would be more attractive to buyers because it’s easier to get financing. Condos are coming back, but they’re not quite back yet.”

Prices range from $600,000 for the landside courtyard homes to just over $1 million for the waterfront townhomes. Miller says buyers so far have been retirees and empty nesters who either already own homes on the island or are seasonal residents.

MPS Contractors has been quietly building custom single-family homes on the Island of Venice for the past eight years. “People are moving onto the island for location and quality of life, and the trend is to take an older home that’s a little bit beyond remodeling value, tear it down, and build a new one,” Miller says. Late last summer, he estimated that 20 to 30 new homes were under construction on the island. “They go unnoticed because they aren’t in MLS [the Multiple Listing Service],” he says.

The company is preparing another island site for a multifamily development at the corner of Madrid and The Esplanade, right across the street from the public beach. Che Vista (“beautiful view” in Italian) will offer 14 1,800-square-foot condominiums in a four-story building—three living stories over garages, priced “in the $600,000 range,” Miller says. Construction is expected to commence in March.

And it has revived the Villa Veneto project that Miller’s previous company, Waterford, had started just south of the Publix shopping center east of Tamiami Trail. Six more 1,700 to 1,800-square-foot condominiums will be built to join the six already there.

Nearby on Nokomis Avenue and Turin Street on the site of a former nursing home, local developers Robert Martin and David Gruber are completing construction on phase three of the maintenance-free townhome community of Island Court. At press time, 25 of the 26 total residences had been sold, says real estate agent Michelle Hupp of Michael Saunders & Company.

The price tag for the remaining unit was $453,850. Each of the two-bedroom plus den, 2 ½-bath homes  is on two levels; the developers offered an optional 750-pound lift similar to an elevator as an add-on, and most buyers opted for it, says Hupp.

Within walking distance of the Venice Community Center, library and Venice Regional Hospital, Island Court attracted an assortment of buyers, she says, “from all different ages, families, retirees. When we were at 14 sold, I analyzed it. Fifty percent were going to be homesteaders; and 50 percent are seasonal owners.”

Martin and Gruber have built professional and medical buildings in the Sarasota area, and they built Island Court on Longboat Key; this is their first residential project in Venice, says Hupp. “They’ve built a product that’s in high demand, and we’re hoping they’ll find more property to keep building here,” she says. “They have been very impressed with the community; it’s been very welcoming to them.”

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Announced late this summer, Bella Milan will be a development of three attached two-story townhomes, each one with 1,825 square feet of air-conditioned space. Developer and local realtor Louis Sciafiani says the project is New Urbanism in design, with two-car garages to be accessed off an alleyway. Prices are to be determined, and completion is anticipated later in 2016.

Sciafiani had purchased the property eight years ago, and recently demolished the small 1950s-era house that stood on it. “The economy wasn’t ready [for redevelopment] then,” he says. “I thought now is the perfect time. Some areas, especially on the Island of Venice with its aging housing stock, are ready for change.”

The Venice Museum and Archives Presents Design for Living: John Nolen and the Renaissance of New Urbanism

Through Feb. 24, 2016

Want to learn more about John Nolen and his visionary plan for the City of Venice? This exhibit, a collaboration between the Venice Museum and Dr. Bruce Stephenson, director of the Department of Environmental Studies and Sustainable Urbanism at Rollins College, showcases the importance of John Nolen’s 1926 plan for the city of Venice and its current impact on the New Urbanism movement throughout the United States.

This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Venice Magazine. Click here to subscribe. >>

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