FOR FOUR GENERATIONS, S.C. (Bud) Bexley and his family have lived on and worked their 6,872-acre Bexley Ranch, located in Florida's west central Pasco County. Situated north of State Road 54 and immediately east of the Suncoast Parkway, the property houses the headwaters of the Anclote River and 1,900 acres of natural wetlands. It's there that herds of white, hump-backed Brahma bulls have grazed crops of planted pines cultivated by the Bexley family for more than 50 years.

Today, however, the growth in the Tampa area has stretched beyond the family's ranch. And because of its easy access to the Suncoast Parkway and the overwhelming demand for housing in the Tampa market, the property has become some of the most desirable land for home building in the county.

In 2002, with these factors in mind, the Bexley family patriarch and his sons decided their ranching days were over. However, their concern over the family's land and legacy remained firmly rooted. Although the Bexley family wasn't opposed to developing the land, they knew it would take more than the highest bidder before they were likely to agree to any future plans.

FAMILY PLOT: The Bexleys were willing to part with their land, but they wanted to know it would be in the right hands. Hired in a consultative role, former area developer Glen Cross was brought in by the Bexleys to help ensure that their vision would be preserved. Together, they established three criteria that a developing partner would need to meet in order to be considered for the project. First on the list was a proven experience creating superior projects and a reputation for environmental respect. In addition, the Bexleys wanted assurances that their developing partner would have the financial fortitude to carry the project through to completion.

Along with the Bexleys, Cross toured developers' projects and narrowed the candidates down to a short list of three. In the end, it was Newland Communities' track record for environmental appreciation that stood apart; and the personal relationships that were established between the Bexleys and executives at Newland won the family's confidence.

Lay Of The Land According to Don Whyte, president of Newland's southeast division, gaining the Bexley's trust has been as much a courtship as a business negotiation. “There are certainly unique nuances to developing a project with a family as opposed to working with a city/government entity,” says Whyte. “Our passion came through,” and he credits that as the key to winning the family's approval. “They have a passionate relationship with the land, and that strikes a chord. They can see it is our philosophy to do what the land calls out to do first—and then match it with the economics.”

While many developers are driven by density, Newland's approach is to first review the land and catalog what opportunities are available and then make use of natural, distinctive elements. The award-winning FishHawk Ranch, also in Tampa, showcases that commitment: Where vegetation and trees would be impacted, the developer redesigned plans, moved roads, and re-routed drainage to preserve the foliage. While it's not necessarily the most economic solution, the visual impact is substantial. “Many developers don't want to deal with it,” says Whyte. “We have and will continue to adapt plans when the land calls for it.”

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: Don Whyte was happy to ensure the landowner that a 500-year-old tree stayed standing. But while Newland's developments looked good, “someone like Bud needs to know the personalities [in our company] from top to bottom in order to believe it's really our philosophy,” recalls Whyte. And Newland was happy to comply. “They wanted to have that comfort level,” recalls Newland's CEO, Bob McLeod, who conducted several meetings with Bud, Bud's sons, and even Bud's grandsons. “They needed to like us, trust us, and be sure that they were going to be a part of the process.”

According to McLeod, the interaction has been invaluable. And as the nation's supply of government-owned land shrinks, he says he sees the ability to negotiate family deals as imperative. “We need to understand their wants,” says McLeod. “[What are] the tax needs of the family? Was it important for them to preserve a homestead on the land? Are there smaller family units within the overall structure that need to be accommodated? They bring a feeling for what they want the land to become.Then it's our job to make sure that our experts create that.”

Productive Partnering At Bexley Ranch, the partnership has been predicated on the protection, preservation, and enhancement of its on-site environmental resources. Craig Bexley, Bud's son, said his family extracted a promise from Newland to preserve nearly 200 acres of forest. Located there is a 500-year-old oak tree with a trunk measuring 27 feet around. “Early in our discussions, Bud wanted us to be very clear about what we would do with ‘his' tree,” recalls Whyte, who imagines lining what is now a twisting jeep trail with mulch to create a nature path for future homeowners.