Blandford Homes

Blandford Homes put down a whopping $175.5 million for 373.5 acres of state trust land along Chandler Boulevard between 19th and 27th avenues,  bringing the certainty of 1,050 new homes to Ahwatukee within a few years. 

Change and same-old, same-old. Controversy and jubilation. Promise and disappointment. Every year has all that and Ahwatukee had more than its share in 2021.

Here’s a look back at some of the dominant themes of the year.

Golf courses

The year began with two of Ahwatukee’s four golf courses in a seemingly endless legal battle and deteriorated state. Now only one remains that way with no end in sight to litigation or its current barren state.

 Ahwatukee Lakes is on the verge of a comeback of sorts, though owner Wilson Gee and the lawyer for two homeowners suing him aren’t eye-to-eye on the state of that comeback.

Meanwhile, just as one judge finally resolved an 18-month-long legal fight between the Club West Conservancy and the Foothills Club West Association board, a new one hit the community of about 2,600 homeowners as the Conservancy sued Shea Homes and course owner The Edge. The Conservancy aims to stop once and for all the possibility of any piece of the course being sold for homebuilding. It’s impossible to predict how long this new litigation will last but consider: the Lakes case started in 2014 and is still very much alive.

The Conservancy’s first lawsuit, filed in March 2020, also became a lightning rod for the usually sleepy HOA board elections as four long-time board members – some who had been on the board for as long as 20 years – were ousted. A judge had ruled in the suit that the board improperly acquired the declarant rights to the 165-acre course. Mike Hinz, who had been board president and also was a long-time member, later resigned.

 

COVID-19

As 2021 saw not one but two variants of COVID-19 sweep through the nation, Ahwatukee has seen ebbs and flows in the virus. Right now, according to the latest data from the county health department, there is little difference from this time last year in virus metrics in Ahwatukee. 

All three ZIP codes showing between 327 and 269 new cases per 100,000 people and positive new test results ranging between 9.5 percent and 13. 4 percent. Those metrics are in the same category that prompted both Kyrene and Tempe Union school districts at this time last year to keep campuses closed, though neither has indicated they are thinking of that. 

One difference between now and then: we have two effective vaccines. Other county data released earlier this week shows that the percentage of all people in each of Ahwatukee’s three ZIP codes who have received at least one vaccine dose is at least 50 percent but it varies widely: 70 percent in 85045, 62.8 percent in 85044 and 53.8 percent in 85048. 

Among people ages 15 to 24, 85045 has the highest vaccination rate at 92.3 percent; 85044 has a 58 percent vaccinate rate in that age group and 85048 has 17.8 percent.

 

Masks

Mask mandates remained a divisive issue in the two school districts serving Ahwatukee and threaten to continue that way at least in Tempe Union next week since that district will continue its mandatory mask mandate while Kyrene, for now, is making masks optional.

The districts' mask mandates proved to be costly because of a mask mandate ban that the Legislature eventually was found to have passed in violation of the state constitution. Despite that ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court, Gov. Doug Ducey showed no signs of relenting on withholding $5.2 million in pandemic relief funds from Kyrene and $2.8 million from Tempe Union. The Biden administration has threatened to take the funds away from Ducey and has asked him to explain his actions.

 

Home values

For Ahwatukee homeowners, 2021 brought an amazing surge in the value of their investment. AFN real estate columnist Allen Henderson reported that in the first 11 months of this year, the average price of an Ahwatukee home was $516,308 – up 23.9 percent over the same time period last year.

On the other hand, buyers found increasing frustration. First-time buyers are all but priced out of the Ahwatukee market – and many other submarkets in the Valley, according to a wide variety of real estate experts. They’re saying first-timers may have to look for affordable housing as far away as Casa Grande.

 

Development

By far the biggest news in this category was Blandford Homes’ purchase of 373 acres of State Trust land along Chandler Boulevard between 19th and 27th avenues for a staggering $175.5 million. The land can sustain 1,050 homes and Blandford has indicated that prepping the site will take about two years. 

If all those homes were sold at the current average sale price of an Ahwatukee house, Blandford would reap $514,800,000 – minus land prep and impact fees that would likely cost a good chunk of that money, but certainly not enough to make it a losing investment.

Meanwhile, another new kind of development appeared in Ahwatukee when a pair of Phoenix entrepreneurs bought the Quality Inn near 51st Street and Elliot Road with the intent of converting its 118 rooms into 110 apartments, mostly one-bedroom units price around $1,400 a month.

Ahwatukee also could be on the doorstep of a mammoth sports-entertainment complex as the Gila River Indian Community and a Scottsdale developer announced plans to build a 3,000-acre set of attractions. The tribe did lose out on a chance to host the Arizona State Fair this year, but it is not out of the running to become a permanent home to an event that draws more than a million people.

 

Schools

There was more to public schools in Ahwatukee than face masks and closed classrooms. Both Tempe Union and Kyrene were told by the same demographer that they are on a steady enrollment decline because of several factors: lower birth rates generally, home prices are forcing young families with children to look elsewhere for a place to live and the districts overall are aging and older homeowners are not willing to move.

In addition, the issue of learning loss looms large as a result of months of online learning but it has rarely been addressed in governing board meetings so far.

Meanwhile, finances have proven a knotty problem for Kyrene and Chief Financial Officer Chris Hermann indicated at several meetings that had it not been for three rounds of pandemic-relief funding, the district would have a tough time balancing its budget after taking a $6 million reduction in state reimbursement because of a projected enrollment loss of 1,210 student. 

Kyrene did get some good financial news in November when voters by a 63-percent margin approved a seven-year renewal of the district’s override request. And the district expects to earn $100 million over the next 75 years after the board approved leasing 28 acres of land it owns along I-10 to a developer that will build office-warehouse space.

Both districts also have had to grapple with personnel issues in the form of unfilled permanent jobs and the difficulty in finding substitute teachers. 

 

Traditions new and done

The Festival of Lights Committee made it official: That big post-Thanksgiving Kick-Off Party that drew thousands to the all-day event at Desert Foothills Park will never come back. Knocked out in 2020 by the pandemic, the committee said it had become increasingly more expensive to host the party – and fill hundreds of volunteer positions for set-up, tear-down and day-of-event operation.

But while the Christmas lights along Chandler Boulevard also were in jeopardy, smart management by the Festival of Lights Committee, the generosity of the Foothills and Club West HOAs and an outpouring of financial support from businesses and individuals kept the lights burning this year and leave hope they will remain for years to come.

Meanwhile, COVID in 2020 may have grounded Santa and his helicopter flight to Millie’s Hallmark the day after Thanksgiving but this year, the store brought them back for the 38th time.

Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools started a new tradition to go along with the Ahwatukee Bowl – itself one of Arizona’s most storied and longest high school football rivalries.

 Student councils at both schools started a competitive food drive to see which one could raise the most food for needy people. This year, the two teams met for the 25th time for what would be a tie-breaker in the series. Desert Vista won the game and Mountain Pointe won the food drive.

 

School resource officers

The Tempe Union Governing Board ramped up an effort to abolish school resource officers on campuses but then abruptly down-shifted on the move.

Despite the opposition of all six high school principals, a number of students, seven former board members, the Tempe Police Department and a number of students, teachers and parents, the board in October voted 3-2 to terminate the SROs by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

The vote – which also drew supporters among some parents, students and teachers – was partly a reflection of some board members’ harsh criticism of the Phoenix Police Department, which this year came under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, and partly a reflection of some members’ sympathy for the argument that uniformed armed officers don’t belong on campuses and intimidate students of color.

A month after the vote to abolish SROs, the board amended its resolution. Now it will study the issue of safety on campuses and consider all options – including SROs – and likely won’t arrive at a plan until the 2023-24 school year.

Kyrene, which has SROs in its six middle schools, had escaped the controversy until this month, when board member Dr. Wanda Kolomyjec questioned whether they belong on campuses. While administrators told the board the roles of SROs on middle school campuses is vastly different and that in many instances they are “very beloved members of the community,” Kolomyjec and Michelle Fahy persisted in asking for a study of them.

 

Law and order

The May 2020 shooting death of Ryan Whitaker in the doorway of his Ahwatukee condo was resolved on several fronts. Phoenix City Council authorized the payment of $3 million to the family of Whitaker, who was shot twice in the back by Phoenix Officer Jeff Cooke. County Attorney Allister Adel ruled out charges against Cooke, saying both men “could have made decisions that would have avoided this terrible result.” Cooke was fired by the department but the Phoenix Civil Service Board – an independent agency – ordered him reinstated.

Meanwhile, former Desert Gardens Montessori teacher Justin Walters was arrested on multiple counts for luring a 17-year-old student into a months-long sexual affair. He was fired by the school, released on bond and is awaiting trial.

Awaiting a retrial is former Ahwatukee resident Jeffrey Martinson for the 2004 drug overdose death of his 5-year-old son during a bitter custody fight. Taxpayers have shelled out more than $5.2 million for the defense of Martinson, who is represented by court-appointed lawyers. 

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(1) comment

clarasm

After the hit of covid, the world's behavior drastically changed. According to the many real estate agencies like Karen cannon, the price inflation rate in the prices of property is enhanced by 20-30 percent, which isn't the right sign!

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