The area on the northwest side of Pensacola has grown explosively in the last few years. The primary driver has been Navy Federal Credit Union’s decision some years ago to build a sprawling corporate campus there for their southern headquarters. The complex has grown to over a dozen large office buildings where thousands of people work. The sleepy little two lane state road through the area is in the final stages of being converted to a four lane divided highway with direct Interstate 10 access, and an adjoining section of land (640 acres, or one square mile) that the Navy has used for helicopter flight training is in the early stages of being converted to a major industrial park. People have flocked to the area for the better-than-average wages, good schools and semi-rural surroundings, and homebuilders have taken note, with new subdivisions popping up like spring flowers.
It had been quite a while since Rhonda and I had visited the area, and with little to do while waiting for the weather to improve enough to let us start the trek south for the season, we decided to take a drive one afternoon and see what was new.
With no specific destination in mind, we just let whim and impulse dictate our course as we wandered along rural back roads, investigating all the new construction. In the back of our minds was the recognition that while our Life On The Hook™ had no set end date, we knew we wouldn’t be liveaboard cruisers forever. At some point, maybe in a couple of years, or maybe four of five, we’d want to buy a house and reestablish a home base rather than live as full time gypsies of the sea.
A sign caught our eye. It was a new gated community called Antietam. It sat at the top of a ridge with a western exposure. We loved the location. Most of our lives it seems the homes we’ve owned have come with water and drainage problems, and high on our list of must haves if we ever moved back ashore was a place on high ground with good drainage. If you’re at all familiar with Florida, you probably know that ridge-top property is almost non-existent. At 130+ feet of elevation, Antietam practically sat on a mountain top by Florida standards.
The name resonated with us. Rhonda’s family had strong ties to northern Virginia. Her grandfather’s farm had sat on the edge of the Bull Run battlefield. A development named after a major Civil War battle, with streets named after famous generals, had a familiar feel.
The model home was open. We stopped and took a look. And we learned that Antietam was Northwest Florida’s first Freedom community, a development concept D R Horton designed for what they termed “active adults.” Briefly, the basic idea was to allow the homeowners to travel extensively without having to worry about their homes. All lawn service was provided by the Home Owner’s Association. The houses were all built as Smart Homes, fully internet connected with remotely monitored intrusion and alarm systems. And as a gated community, it was access controlled. So you could just lock the door and leave on extended travel with no worries.
It was as if it had been designed just for our needs.
We were blown away by the model. Somewhat small and almost non-descript from the outside, it opened up to enormous interior spaces with room to spare to swallow everything we’ve had in storage for four years. At just a little over 2,000 ft2, it felt larger than the 2,500 ft2 home we’d sold in 2014. A house with the same floorplan was already under construction at the highest point on the ridge.
It got us to thinking. Maybe this was what we would want when the day came to move back ashore. We could still cruise, maybe two to four months at a time, but with a comfortable home to return to. A home that we knew would be well looked after in our absence.
We returned to Eagle Too and pondered the possibilities. Now probably wasn’t the time. The boat was ready to head south as soon as the weather broke. We really planned to keep cruising fulltime for at least a few more years. And the numbers didn’t quite work out. The price was just a little bit out of our reach. Maybe we’d check back next season, or the season after that. The most desirable ridge-top lots would all be gone by then, of course, and we’d end up further down the hill, but we’d still have the Freedom Community amenities.
We put the idea aside and refocused on preparing to leave.
Then my phone chimed, and an email arrived that profoundly altered our plans…