Even before houses were built, signs like this generated huge interest in the Mulberry neighborhood  in Mesa that was developed by the same homebuilder that locked up a 63-acre site in Ahwatukee owner by the Tempe Union High School District.
Special to AFN

Tempe Union High School District is expecting a $23-million windfall and Ahwatukee residents could see a “new old-home neighborhood” after the district governing board approved the sale of a 63-acre site in the community.

The board last week unanimously approved the sale of the parcel on the southwest corner of Desert Foothills Parkway near Frye Road to Desert Vista 100, a subsidiary of Blandford Homes, a respected homebuilder in Arizona that touts higher-end luxury master-planned communities.

The sales price – roughly $367,000 per acre – exceeded the district’s expectations. Earlier this year, officials said it would like yield between $13 million and $19 million.

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

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.

Voters last fall overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that authorized the district to sell the land.

Virtually all the wrangling with Desert Vista 100 and other bidders occurred behind closed doors. Districts are allowed to convene executive sessions when land transactions are involved.

Despite the board vote, it will be a while before the district sees the money and residents near the site meet new neighbors.

Although the full terms of the sale agreement have not been disclosed, the resolution approved by the board makes the deal final once the developer gets final approval from the city for whatever residential plan it comes up with.

A site plan has yet to be submitted to the city for review, which will include at least one hearing before the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee.

State law also restricts how the money can be used – a fact that Superintendent Kenneth Baca reminded the board after its vote.

“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 said, adding:

“Those are decisions you will make down the road.”

The land was purchased long before the current board and administration took office and had initially been eyed as the site of a third high school in Ahwatukee. Subsequent population projections indicated another school would be unnecessary.

When officials were mulling a possible sale, their consultant, Ryan Duncan of Nathan and Associates called it “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.

But that does not account for the land that would be used for streets, walks, oversized lots and amenities.

And Desert Vista 100, a company Blandford formed in late 2013, is already winning plaudits for a 350-home planned residential development it has developed near the intersection of Guadalupe and Signal Butte roads in east Mesa.

Called Mulberry, the development 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.

Besides a Georgian Colonial-style clubhouse complete with white-and-green shutters, the development offers homeowners exclusive use of seven parks, sport courts, playgrounds, a pool, fitness and multipurpose rooms, party terrace and huge great lawn area.

A “lifestyle director” organizes community events and activities, including “All-American picnics,” a pancake breakfast with Santa, crafty workshops, food drives, “Mulberry Monster Mash” and a “Kris Kringle Party.”

While the development is located within about a mile of a bustling and relatively new complex of shops and even an IMAX Theater, developers also built “Mulberry Marketplace” within the community.

Anchoring that strip mall is a Fry’s Supermarket that has expanded organic products, added the chain’s first full-service sushi station and even sells name-brand clothing and shoes. Additionally, customers can phone in their orders and pick them up curbside.

Its neighbors include a seven-day-a-week medical clinic, a wine bar that also serves craft beers, and an international cheese shop.

To top it off, every home gets a pair of “Mulberry Cruisers,” custom-made bicycles branded with the development’s name and blue-and-green colors.

 

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