A mostly pristine swath of desert studded with saguaro cactus and an undulating wash in northeast Mesa may turn into a resort-style gated community in about four years.
The Mesa City Council is poised to accept the $21.1 million bid of Blandford Homes subsidiary Desert Vista 101, LLC, tomorrow, May 20, signaling the beginning of a year-long feasibility period during which Blandford would need a zoning change and a site plan approval before it could close on the sale.
A staff report to the council said Blandford put down a $250,000 fee to qualify for bidding on the project, plus another $805,000 in earnest money that was put into escrow.
Billed as a community that will be similar to Las Sendas, the development would be built on a 132-acre site purchased by the city for $4 million in 1998 and originally reserved for development of a large park.
But voters rejected two park bond issues in 2000. The site — marked by large saguaro cactuses, a meandering natural desert wash and a commanding view of Red Mountain — has remained largely untouched for nearly 20 years.
“This issue will be debated for one and a half years. I think this is very exciting for us to have a win-win situation,’’ Mayor John Giles said.
Giles believes the land can be sold at a great profit for Mesa and that part of the desert also can be preserved as a public trail.
Jeff Blandford, president and CEO of Blandford Homes, said he is planning a gated community similar to his other resort style developments, such as Las Sendas Mountain, Mountain Ridge and The Grove at Valencia.
He pledged to work closely with Red Mountain residents and the city, but cautioned that the development is a long way from taking shape.
“We will do the best we can to come up with a plan that works for them, that works for the city, that works for us,’’ Blandford said.
Residents of Red Mountain Ranch, a large nearby subdivision, have objected to the land sale, saying they were expecting a park.
A small private park operated by the Red Mountain Homeowners Association sits on property, which also has an undeveloped trail.
Angelica Guevara, a city planner, said it was an “oversight’’ when staff members did not remove signs on the property, left over from the failed bond election, that touted the site as a future park.
Blandford said Red Mountain residents want improvements to their private park and that there may be a way to share an expanded facility between Red Mountain and Desert Vista residents.
“They want their amenities but they don’t want it to be overstated,’’ Blandford said.
Council member Jen Duff asked whether the recreational facilities would be enclosed in the gated community or open to the public.
“I think it would be more the perimeter of the property,’’ where the public trail would be located, Blandford said, with the 600-foot buffer on the northern section of the property incorporated into the trail.
The city included the buffer at the request of Nammo Talley, a defense contractor, which also has requested seismic and acoustic monitors paid for by Blandford.
The wash would be inappropriate for such a trail because of the risks of a flash flood, Blandford said.
With the buffer, the wash, the slope and the rocky terrain on the city-owned property, the amount of land that can be developed dropped to 94 acres.
City Manager Chris Brady said he is seeking direction from the council on planning additional recreational facilities in District 5, where the undeveloped site is located.
He said a hiking and biking trail would be incorporated into the Blandford development, but the additional soccer fields and pickleball fields would be built as part of other city projects.
Brady said that $4 million from the sale would be reserved for the new recreational facilities in northeast Mesa so that the city can deliver on the original intent of buying the property, even if the facilities are scattered in other locations.
No mention was made of how the city plans to use the remaining $17 million from the land sale.
Proceeds from such “one off’’ sales usually end up in the Enterprise Fund, which generally comes from utility profits in Mesa and is a major source of operating revenue.
The controversy over the land’s future erupted in January when the council decided it was an unused asset and directed staff to conduct an unusual public auction.
The staff report said a land swap was considered last year when a developer proposed a residential development on a different, nearby site, on the southwest corner of Recker and Thomas roads.
City officials opposed that proposal, saying that they wanted to reserve it for commercial development and that it lies directly in the flight path from Falcon Field.
Instead, they offered the city-owned site at the northwest corner of Thomas and Recker Roads as a substitute, but the city and the developer could not agree on a price.
Brady said the property on the southwest corner of Recker and Thomas is directly in the flight path from Falcon Field.
He said there are no jets at Falcon Field, making it different than Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport.
But he said the smaller planes at Falcon Field make more flights.
Guevara said Boeing expressed reservations about the land sale creating more noise complaints and requested that any future residents sign an “aviation easement.’’
However, the defense contractor also said that none of its Apache helicopters fly over the property.
“They fly north and head east. It’s not directly over our property,’’ she said.
Guevara said the land swap with the developer who proposed the development on the southwest corner of Recker and Thomas fell through over a disagreement in price for the city owned land northwest of Recker and Thomas.
The developer’s appraisal estimated the city-owned site’s value at $8.6 million, while the city’s appraisal was eventually reduced to $15.6 million from $25.5 million, to account for the buffer with Nammo Talley.
Nammo Talley makes propellant actuated devices and shoulder-fired systems.
Brad Anderer, test director for Nammo Talley, said the company has made presentations at Red Mountain Ranch about its testing. He said the company has been on its site for about 60 years, long before any residential communities were built.
The seismic and acoustic monitors would protect the company from claims filed by future residents at the Blandford development, he said.
“Our operations are safe. We’re 100 percent confident there won’t be any impact on any communities.’’