Desert Foothills Parkway

On Desert Foothills Parkway, running left of center on this map, the new Palma Brisa community will be on built the parcel in the upper-right quadrant.

The sale last week of one of Ahwatukee’s few remaining large developable tracts of land has made Tempe Union High School $23.04 million richer and will bring a new 197-home community here next year.

Desert Vista 100, a subsidiary of Blandford Homes, completed the sale of a 62-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Desert Foothills Parkway and Frye Road and announced it will start selling homes on the tract by mid-2019 for a community it is calling Palma Brisa.

“Palma Brisa is already under development and will consist of an exclusive yet lively and exciting gated community,” the developer said in a release.

It will become the 11th community in the Foothills Community Association, but will also have its own homeowners association, according to Pat Wontor, community manager for the association’s management company.

   “They are working very hard and have moved a lot of dirt already,” Wontor said. “They’ve salvaged a lot of trees and cactus and have them all boxed up. It’s very exciting.”

Although the sale gives the newly reconstituted Tempe Union governing board a big decision to make next year – namely how to spend the money – don’t expect it to be used for higher salaries or classroom programs.

State law restricts school districts’ uses of proceeds from property transactions to capital improvement spending or paying down debt.

That prompted a lament from former Superintendent Kenneth Baca when the sale was approved.

“While we would like this money to go into the classroom – especially for teacher compensation and employee compensation – by state statute it has to go to capital purposes or paying off debt as the result of bonds,” Baca told the board. “Those are decisions you will make down the road.”

It was not clear when the board – which now has two new members – would make that decision. The sale was not brought up at the board’s last meeting of the year on Dec. 19.

The land was purchased years ago – well before the current administration and board – with an eye toward building a third high school in Ahwatukee.

But changing demographics in the community prompted Tempe Union to drop that plan and the board secured voter approval for a sale in 2016.

When school officials were mulling a possible sale, their consultant, Ryan Duncan of Nathan and Associates, called the tract “a highly coveted site by the development community.”

But he also cautioned that the site’s topography had challenges and that might affect how high the bidding would go. Although Duncan indicated the site could see as many as 178 homes, the zoning theoretically could allow for more than 400.

The topographical challenges are believed to be the main reason why it took so long for the sale to be completed.

But now the community appears to have clear sailing.

Because the zoning already is in place, the only approvals needed for the site are highly technical. It also is going through a review process with the Foothills Association board.

“This property received preliminary approval for a 197-lot subdivision on April 30, 2018,” said city Planning Department spokeswoman Angie Holdsworth, adding planners already have approved the grading and drainage plans and were in the final stages of reviewing site and plat plans.

“After they finish their approvals,” she added, “they should be good to go on construction.”

The sales price – roughly $367,000 per acre – exceeded the district’s expectations. Earlier in 2017, officials expected it to yield between $13 million and $19 million.

“We wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t getting top dollar for the community,” former board president DeeAnne McClenahan said at the time.

Although several dozen initial bids were submitted, Desert Vista 100 had taken the lead within a matter of weeks. Tempe Union officials had asked the developer to raise its offer to match one from an unidentified buyer, apparently because they had questions about that initial high bidder.

Virtually all the negotiations and board discussions were held in executive session, so few details are available.

Desert Vista 100, which Gilbert-based Blandford formed in late 2013, has already won plaudits for its communities.

Wontor said that during discussions with the HOA, the developer shed little light on specific plans for amenities, but “referenced Mountain Bridge quite a bit.”

The developer describes its Mountain Bridge development in northeast Mesa as a “signature community for all ages” with 45 percent open space and extensive trails and paths” with covered grand entryways. A clock tower, architecture in “rustic old world, Mediterranean and Andalusia” style and “resort-style amenities” that include a heated pool, spa, fitness facilities, tennis courts, event lawns, parks and “lifestyle activities.”

Another Desert Vista 100 community in east Mesa called Mulberry boasts “millions of extra dollars spent to create real resort-quality entries, date palm boulevards like none other, carriage houses, specialty street lighting, lush landscaping, unique theme walls and meaningful amenities.”

Among the landscaping amenities are 150 16-foot date palm trees that line the main streets and two gateways to the development.

“It is the neighborhood EVERYONE falls in love with,” Mulberry’s website states. “It feels like an enchanted land – magically reminiscent of the early 1900s, when homes sprung up to create quaint neighborhoods.”

It offers six sets each of single-level and two-story floor plans ranging between 1,700 and 4,000 square feet and priced from $200,000 to mid-$300,000. Corner-lot homes feature wraparound porches.

Blandford Homes spokeswoman Lori Anderson said that Palma Brisa will have both single-level and two-story homes and that “a special focus will be given on the placement” of those houses.

“Collection One and Palma Brisa Collection Two will offer single-level homes from approximately 1,700 square feet to 2,600 square feet with three-to-five with bedrooms and three-car garages,” she said. “A line of two-story homes approximately 2,400 to 4,400 square feet will offer four to six bedrooms and three- and four-car garages.”

She said it would have “a minimum of five architecturally diverse exterior elevations per plan as well as 21 exterior color pallets for each for a total of 840 combinations of exteriors. Cobblestone paver driveways and unique front yard landscape packages will finish off the Palma Brisa neighborhood.”

Pricing has not yet been determined, and the website for the homes has only a contact page for interested buyers. Anderson said pre-sales are expected by mid-year with closing coming as early as late 2019 – about the same time the South Mountain Freeway is expected to open.

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