You might not notice exactly when you cross the Lorain County line on interstates 90 or 480. The trees are the same shade of green and the roads ride as well as those in adjacent counties.
But take a drive into new upscale developments in Avon, Avon Lake, North Ridgeville and Lorain, and you'll see why the county has been stealing residents from its built-out neighbors for years. More affordable housing, lower taxes, rural living, good schools and, most importantly, lots of green space have all encouraged a new-construction boom in Lorain County over the last 15 years. More than 5,000 new homes have broken ground in the last four years alone, and thousands more are forecast for the next 10 years. Homebuyers can find new housing scattered just about everywhere in the county, from affordable options in the $130s arcing up to sprawling mansions in the $1-million range.
Here are the stories of three homeowners new to Lorain County, who found home sweet home in a conservation development, a waterfront development and a golf-course community. They haven't looked back.
Family brought Richard and Lee Burta Lewis to Northeast Ohio. But it was conservation and reputation that convinced them to buy a new home in Avon.
The Lewises left a 4,000-square-foot hillside home in Yorba Linda, Calif. only 17 miles from the Disneyland Resort and the new California Adven-ture, where Richard was senior vice president of human resources to be near their daughter and two grandchildren in Cleveland Heights and closer to their son in Rochester, N.Y.
"It's tough being a single mom," Richard says of his daughter. "We decided to leave Disney early and come back and help her out, and that's why we are here. I think that's what life is all about."
Before moving here in December 2002, Lee Lewis made several trips to Northeast Ohio and toured Cleveland with Realtors, checking out Bratenahl, Lyndhurst and Westlake.
But after a visit to Avenbury Lakes, a 146-acre conservation and active-adult community, where close to 70 acres are devoted to open space, Lee told her husband she had found something special in Avon.
"The first thing that attracted us was conservation," Richard explains. "My wife and I grew up in Colorado, and while we lived in Florida, we were pretty active on Sanibel Island and we supported the U.S. [Army] Corps of Engineers restoring the Everglades."
The stellar reputation of Joe Scaletta, builder and developer of the award-winning community, sealed the deal for Richard, who says he believes firmly in investigating business associates.
So Richard says he had no reservations when they bought the 2,000-square-foot home, even though he hadn't seen it in person.
"When we found out the quality of the house holy cow!" he exclaims. "In Ohio, we couldn't have found a better home for the price we paid."
The Lewises have not been disappointed in their home or their new neighborhood, which includes 23 acres of wetlands, 10 acres of lakes and ponds and even observation decks for bird-watching.
"There are not enough adjectives to tell you what a great place it is," says Richard, who fills in as a substitute teacher at Avon Middle School. "It's probably one of the best places that we have lived and we have traveled around quite a bit."
The couple customized the colors and carpeting in the community's largest model and put in upgrades such as Corian countertops, a water-filtration system and a three-season porch. The three-bedroom, two-bath ranch also boasts a full basement.
Their neighbors in the development, almost all 55 and older, are extremely friendly and open, according to Richard.
"They welcome you like you are family," he says. "When you drive down the street, everybody waves."
Though it wasn't the original draw, the Lewises are enjoying the resort-style living.
"It really is an active community," Richard says. "We love the walking paths, we love the indoor pool, we love the outdoor pool. And you can go over anytime you want to use the workout room."
The inviting club at Red Tail golf-course community in Avon first drew Tim and Constance Powers to become nonresident members, then to build their spacious home there.
Brought to the area from New Jersey by a job transfer to a subsidiary of Alcoa, Tim temporarily set himself up in an apartment in Westlake while he began scouting potential communities for himself and his wife. Constance stayed back in New Jersey to make sure the job was a keeper.
Tim, an excellent golfer, joined the Red Tail Golf Club. Eventually, he hooked up with Terry Bennett of Terry Bennett Builders and Remodelers.
"Tim was actually thinking that Westlake would be where he wanted to live at first," recalls Constance. "But then he was looking at some golf clubs and he saw Red Tail, and he really enjoyed it.
"I would come out on occasion on the weekends," she adds. "We were house-hunting and looking, and finally we decided that we like Red Tail so much, let's see if we can't build a house here."
The couple moved into their Terry Bennett home in November 2002. The customized, 3,400-square-foot, brick-front colonial sits on a wooded lot off the golf course, although several windows present a view of the championship layout.
"Moving to a golf community was a nice way to meet people when you are new," Constance says. "It's not stuffy here; everybody is so friendly and pleasant. It's not like a stick-your-nose-up-in-the-air golf club. There are young couples here, some who are just starting families, single people and older couples."
A neighbor referred Constance to a ladies group called the New Westsiders.
"It's for anyone west of Cleveland," she explains. "We have folks from Rocky River, Bay Village, Lakewood, Avon, Avon Lake, and we meet once a month for a luncheon, and we take trips once a month to different places in the area." Their most recent trip was to the Cleveland Museum of Art.
"It's a really nice way to get to know the area," she enthuses. "And sometimes it's great to share information, like where is a good place to get your hair done around town."
Being only 20 or 30 minutes from downtown Cleveland has been another plus for the couple, who enjoy attending the theater and shows.
"Where we were in New Jersey, going into New York City was not easy," explains Constance. "Cleveland is far more accessible as far as concerts, sporting events, dining and plays. We know when it's an evening out we don't have to start at 3 p.m."
She adds that people here are much more friendly and accommodating than in her home state of New Jersey.
"Even in the food stores, people are pleasant," she says. "I said to my husband, 'I went to the grocery store and they actually put my groceries in the bag for me.' They don't do that in New Jersey. They kind of throw the food at you."
She enjoys Avon's eclectic mix of shopping, visiting Avon Commons at least twice a week, while also frequenting the French Creek District's antique and gift shops along Detroit Road.
"Sometimes, you don't need the big shopping, and I have gotten to know some of the store owners in the French Creek area, so that if I want something, I know where to go," she says.
Kathy Decker can't wait to experience her first summer as a homeowner at HarborWalk on the Black River, an upscale waterfront development in Lorain conceived by Alan Spitzer and built by Zaremba.
Decker, who lived near the lake in Bay Village before her divorce, moved into her customized townhouse at the beginning of October with her dog, Bo, in tow.
"I wanted to be by the water, and it was very affordable," Decker says of her three-level townhouse in the Wharf the initial phase of the 70-acre development, a combination of townhouses, single-family homes and condominiums that surrounds Spitzer's Riverside Marina.
"I had my feelers out all over, and I actually had my eye on this development for over a year," says Decker, who works as a dental hygienist in Amherst. Her new waterfront digs give her a mere 15-minute commute to work.
She did a lot of research before moving to Lorain. "Every person and every item of feedback I received was very positive about the area and the development," Decker says, adding that she couldn't be happier with her decision.
"It's like being on vacation every day," she says. "You just look out your window and see seagulls and water and boats."
Year-round residents make up 90 percent of homebuyers in the HarborWalk, which comprises a blend of retail, commercial and residential. "It's really a nice mix here young people, older people," Decker observes. "Everyone seems very friendly and a lot of them seem to have dogs."
Decker opted for hardwood floors on the second level of her townhome, which includes the redesigned kitchen with stainless-steel appliances. This level is completely open, with lots of windows, a fireplace, a computer loft, a laundry area, a half bath and a walk-out deck. The third level houses the two bedrooms, one of which Decker uses as a reading room and entertaining area. This room also has a deck built off of it.
"The first level is actually the garage, and there is a foyer with a closet," she explains. She plans to convert half of the garage into a game room with a pool table and exercise equipment.
Decker isn't the only one impressed by the quality of the Zaremba-built home and development.
"I have a lot of friends in Cuyahoga County, and a lot of them have been out here. One of them said, 'What are you moving to Lorain for?' " Decker recalls. "He took a little drive down here on his motorcycle and he was quite impressed."
Decker, who loves to do anything on the water, is excited about what's down the road for the historic community she now calls home.
"I think Lorain has a lot to offer. The harbor is incredible and I'm hoping to see more of the shopping develop," she says. "I see it building up. I think it's going to come back around like it used to be."