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Orchid Cove celebrates opening after arduous journey

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS (Week of January 4, 2024)

Seventeen years after it was first approved by county planners as Michael Creek, the boutique luxury subdivision now called Orchid Cove located at the eastern end of the Wabasso Bridge is finally complete.

“All the homes have been sold, there are boats in the marina, and we got the certificate of occupancy for the clubhouse on Dec. 8, in time for our holiday party,” said Albert Lim, president of the Orchid Cove homeowners’ association.

Lim and fellow HOA board members Bill Binder, vice president, and Keith Lehman, treasurer, took over governance of the 57-home community on behalf of the residents in June. They are upbeat about the completion of the subdivision and the clubhouse, which they said will add to the growing sense of community in the compact, riverside development.

“One of the things I like best is how small the community is. We only have one street [a road that circles the internal lake] and you get to know just about everybody,” said Lehman, who bought his waterfront house from Vero Beach PD Homes in 2020. “We had a very nice turnout at the Christmas party.”

Vero Beach PD was one of two builders in the development, along with GHO Homes.

“This is where we congregate,” said Lim of the handsome new clubhouse, which is unusually large and full-featured for such a small community.

There is a spacious, nicely furnished central gathering and meeting room with a fireplace, couches and big screen, a small meeting and game room, kitchen facilities and an impressive gym with lots of very expensive looking equipment, which the board members said has been well used since it opened three weeks ago.

The high-ceiling clubhouse opens out to an expansive pool area and freeform swimming pool that would do justice to a large hotel in Fort Lauderdale or Palm Springs. The blue pool is surrounded on three sides by lush greenery, including mature palms planted by the developer and native vegetation that extends to the shore of the Orchid Cove, an inlet of the Indian River Lagoon that is reached via Michael Creek.

The community also includes a wooden walkway behind the pool that leads to an observation pier that Lim describes as “very peaceful” and a 21-slip marina with boats waiting for their owners to walk a few steps from their homes and power out into the lagoon.

“We have a couple of very dedicated fisherman who go out the Sebastian Inlet to fish in the Gulf Stream,” said Lim, who likes to wet a line himself from shore on occasion. “There are a lot of fish back here, especially during the mullet run,” he added, looking at the still waters around the observation pier.

Lim said there are “many community events planned” that will take place at the clubhouse, including cookouts and a 4th of July party next summer, and residents will have much celebrate when they gather by the pool in addition to American independence.

Bordered on two sides by water, the community is only half a mile from the ocean at Wabasso Beach park and about a 12-minute drive from Vero’s Ocean Drive to the south and Sebastian Inlet State Park, a nationally renowned fishing spot, to the north.

The Environmental Learning Center, Jungle Trail and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge are even closer.

“We are an upscale community that is both very private and very friendly with ocean to river access,” said Lim. “We are close to all the great restaurants in Sebastian, along with everything else.”

Residents who bought in 2020, like all three board members, or 2021 can also celebrate exhilarating, post-covid price appreciation. The earliest homes in the community sold in $500,000s, according to county records, but by 2022 some homes were selling for over $1 million and in 2023 there were eight sales over $1 million, with a top sales price of $1,590,000.

Most of the million-dollar homes are on premium lots on the Indian River Lagoon, but two interior homes that back up to the retention pond sold for seven figures in 2023, with a top sales price of $1,350,000.

Even the least expensive homes in the neighborhood, those that back up to a wall that runs along route 510, have gained substantial value. A three-bedroom, three-bath, 2060-square-foot home in that section currently listed for $959,000 was purchased in 2021 for $568,700.

Lim said most residents live in the community full time, with about 20 snowbird households out of 57 homes, and that half of the snowbirds were back in Florida as of last week. “The others are coming back after the holidays,” he added.

Things have worked out well at Orchid Cove. Residents love the community, and those who bought early got a winning lotto ticket tucked in with their closing papers. But the community was a long time coming.

Delray Beach-based developer Cary Glickstein acquired the 31-acre subdivision site in two parcels in 2006, at the height of the housing boom. He bought 28 acres from the Lier family, descendants of island citrus pioneer A.B. Michael, for $16 million, and then paid another $1.6 million for an adjacent 2.8-acre parcel.

Thereafter he spent another $3 million or so on fill and infrastructure, including sewer lines, a central lake and circular road, for a total investment of more than $20 million, all with the intention of selling multimillion-dollar homes.

As late as the fall of 2008, Glickstein still thought he could buck the down market with a well-designed community of luxury homes on the barrier island, but reality eventually sunk in. He put the development on hold and later lost it to his lender, who in turn sold it to a hedge fund.

The property then languished until 2017 when developer and builder Peter Trematerra purchased the acreage for $6 million.

He soon had crews onsite, cleaning up the overgrown property and dredging a channel between the Intracoastal Waterway and the shoreline.

Trematerra’s original idea was to prepare the property and then sell the lots to a builder with a track record of quality and success.

In the end, he sold 37 lots to just such a builder, GHO Homes, and built 20 houses himself under the headings of Parkwood Distinctive Homes and Vero Beach PD Homes.

“Once [GHO President] Bill Handler got here, things moved fast,” said Binder, who bought his GHO home in October 2020. “Early on, Bill had a couple of spec homes and two models but then COVID hit the same month he had his grand opening planned. That killed everything for a little while but then things just took off.”

“I met with Bill as we started the transition to resident ownership,” said Lim. “He was very easy to work with. He understood our concerns and was willing to work with us. Our attorney who represents our homeowners’ association has met with Bill many times and only has good things to say about him. We were sad to see Bill go.”

If anyone would like to try out the lifestyle Handler and Trematerra built the framework for, there were three homes listed for sale in Orchid Cove at the end of December – a three-bedroom, three-bath, 2,406-square-foot riverfront house offered for $1.5 million and two houses that back up to route 510, which are offered in the $900,000s.