Now that the state-owned land on its south side will be opening up a little faster than anticipated, Apache Junction is boning up on the ins and outs of the kinds of neighborhoods that have shaped the Valley.
"We’re trying to educate our folks on what the heck are these masterplanned community thingies," joked Rudy Esquivias, Apache Junction’s senior planner and zoning administrator.
Caravans of city staff, City Council members and business representatives are visiting Agritopia, DC Ranch, Desert Ridge and other largescale developments as the council prepares to vote on standards for master-planned communities in December. A public meeting on the communities is being held this week.
Apache Junction has developed in far smaller chunks than most of its neighbors. With Mesa on the west and the Tonto National Forest to the north and east, the only direction the city can go for largescale growth is to the south.
That growth has been blocked by 275 square miles owned by the Arizona State Land Department, known as Superstition Vistas. Legal and other issues have blocked the state from selling this land, which it projects could be worth $10 billion and become home for a million people.
Apache Junction annexed about 12 square miles in the northwest corner of that tract before a legal battle between the state and Maricopa County Flood Control District stalled getting the land to market.
Now that litigation over dams — built decades ago to protect Mesa from flooding — is moving toward a resolution and development is leapfrogging toward Florence, the state is hustling to get this land on the auction block.
State officials have named Denver-based Lend Lease Communities as their "planning consultant" in figuring out exactly what is on and underneath the area called Lost Dutchman Heights, even though it’s flat and miles away from where the legendary gold mine is reputed to be.
The state also has tripled the size of the first slice of land it plans to auction next fall to 1,650 acres, to make it more attractive to larger development companies and make allowances for drainage issues, fissures and other factors that could complicate development.
"What we’re trying to do is make sure this land can be profitable for the private sector, and the beneficiaries of the State Land Trust. They needed a bigger parcel, so it made more sense to do it that way," Hubbard said. Nearly all proceeds from state land sales go toward financing Arizona public schools.
This is the first time the state has solicited help from the private sector to ready a piece of land for the block, giving that company a leg up when it comes time to bid.
Lend Lease was the only applicant for the consultant work. Willis Martin, vice president for land acquisition for Pulte and Del Webb, said the state’s top homebuilder decided taking on this role would be too costly, but it hasn’t lost interest in the site.
"When it comes time to bid, I’ll be the first in line," he said.
Lend Lease representatives did not return calls seeking comment Friday. The company is a subsidiary of an Australian corporation that has developed an Army housing complex in Hawaii, a British peninsula and the Sydney Olympic Village.
Lend Lease will work with numerous firms with knowledge of the local market, according to a news release. These include economists Elliot Pollack and Company and real estate brokerage Lee and Associates.
Councilman Kris Sippel went on the first tour two weeks ago, and cut a vacation short in order to go on the second on Saturday. He said he picked up lots of ideas from the first tour of how to build a community in something close to a natural desert setting.
"I can assure you, if they come up on my vote there will be no trailers," he said.
What: Public workshop on Apache Junction general plan guidelines for master-planned communities
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Epiphany Lutheran Church, 1050 W. Superstition Blvd.