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MELISSA, TX-The founder of Owens Family restaurants has sold a 500-acre farm in Collin County while another in Kaufman County is under contract. In both cases, the likely development is residential with commercial components for the North Texas land.

Jerry P. Owens, whose family started the 75-year-old sausage company with its products now in practically every grocery store, started disposing of the farms after selling the business to Bob Evans Farms Inc., its northeastern US counterpart based in Columbus, OH. Hillwood Residential acquired the Collin County farm, which has prime frontage along Texas 121, a freeway connection that can get commuters to CBD hubs in Dallas or Fort Worth.

Hillwood will invest $21 million into infrastructure to develop 1,300 lots for resale to residential developers while holding onto 69 acres for commercial and retail projects, Fred Balda, Hillwood Residential’s president tells GlobeSt.com. The freeway frontage is perfect for regional retail development. With that said, development could begin sooner than the usual three years that it takes to get the rooftop count needed to attract retail developers and tenants, he says. The infrastructure work will begin in a few months, with the first lots delivering in summer 2004.

The Owens farm is situated in Melissa, 50 miles north of downtown Dallas. It’s one of two that Owens brought to market, says Balda, who confides that the one in Forney is under contract.

Balda says it took 15 months to negotiate the Melissa sale, including the platting and zoning. “The market is there for this property,” he says of a community with just 1,450 residents, “but the rest has to be there too.” The plan is to build an “urban development” in a rural community, which obviously had to compromise to get the deal done to fulfill local officials’ goals to grow into the nation’s building materials distribution hub. In recent years, the town has landed two large lumber company operations and two steel manufacturers.

Hillwood’s “Liberty” development will start out with 400 single-family lots in the first phase. But the windfall comes with the 69 acres of commercial land, half of which is zoned for mixed use and the other, commercial and retail. That means, Balda says, garden-style offices, big box retailers and multifamily are being discussed. Hillwood won’t say what it paid, but the resale value as retail dirt would fall between $2.50 per sf to $3.50 per sf.

Liberty will be built out with two lakes, one with a fishing pier, a private swim club, parks, trails and athletic fields. A project site has been set aside for an elementary school.

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