Master Planning Creates Integrated Communities 

Home Builders Flock to Large Developments

By Jay Gonzales

Understanding the “sense of place” that many feel characterizes the Tucson region is a key success factor for the home builder exploring new opportunities in Southern Arizona.

“The home builders that find real success in Tucson embrace the unique nature of our community,” said David Godlewski, president of Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, the trade organization that advocates for builders in the region.

“Every once in a while, you’ll hear about a builder who will come to town and they might get a project started, then we’ll hear back from them that Tucson is just a different place,” Godlewski said.

That those who live here treasure the area’s unique qualities certainly isn’t keeping home builders from coming here. While rising interest rates and construction costs have slowed the market since the boom that came during and right after the COVID pandemic, builders remain enthusiastic here. About 4,000 homes were permitted in 2023.

“Home builders accelerated permit activity in Spring 2023 and the start of new homes in anticipation of favorable market conditions touted nationally,” Karen Schutte, managing editor of the TREND report wrote in the March report that covers Southern Arizona’s home building market. “Strong demand required aggressive, new home permitting policies to have products available for delivery months ahead.”

Where to build remains one of the long-term questions for home builders says Will White, land broker for Land Advisors Organization which brokers the land deals that ultimately become master-planned communities and subdivisions usually a year or more down the road.

“I think the region is really running with a lot of horsepower,” White said. “The region’s focus needs to be on how we create enough runway of land that is developable and serviceable so that we can allow the home builders to do their job and get busy creating good communities and meeting the demand of the consumer.”

The home building market currently is centered on the active master-planned communities that circle the region, White said, because that’s where the land is available that is ready for homes to be built.

“Builders are buying about 75% of all their land out of those master-planned communities just because that’s the most efficient way to do it,” White said. “The developers of those projects get the lots ready for them, they get them approved, they have the master infrastructure built.

“The builders really can just buy what they understand, which are lots where they can have pretty uninterrupted, constant delivery to them. The master-plan market share is probably going to continue to increase because that’s the path of least resistance for the home builders.”

Within Pima County, the three master-planned communities with available land for home builders are Rocking K to the southeast of the metro area toward Vail, Rancho Sahuarita south of Tucson, and Star Valley, southwest of the metro area. Gladden Farms, a 1,350-acre master-planned development in Marana has sold all its land to builders and homes are still going up there. Just on the other side of the Pima/Pinal County line is Red Rock which has available land.

David Goldstein, president of Diamond Ventures, the developer of Rocking K, suggests that master-planned communities aren’t just convenient for the builders. He says they have a specific role in the overall development of a community. They can cater to first-time buyers all the way to the luxury-home buyer.

The term “master plan,” Goldstein said, implies there’s consistency in a project allowing home builders and buyers to understand what to expect when they move into one.

“When you open up a master-planned community, you put together covenants, restrictions and design guidelines to protect the integrity of the whole community,” Goldstein said. “The beauty of a master-planned community is you build it in phases. You get feedback on what works and what doesn’t work, and it evolves over time.”

An evolution at Rocking K took place early in its development. When Diamond Ventures bought the land 40 years ago, the early stages of the master plan included a resort and golf course on the north side of Old Spanish Trail which splits the 5,000 acres at Rocking K. And while that’s still under consideration for a future date, Goldstein said, the construction that has been taking place on 2,000 acres on the south side of the road has been residential. The plan for the southern development alone is for 4,500 homes.

Rancho Sahuarita is roughly two-thirds of the way to the 9,000 homes to be built in its plan, said developer Jeremy Sharpe. The 3,000-acre community actually has entitlements for 10,500 homes. Development of the first home sites began in 2000.

“A true master plan integrates multiple uses, various types of commercial, various types of residential, and then a very in-depth focus on community and community building,” Sharpe said. “That’s a huge part of what we try to do. But large-scale community development on any level is challenging. It’s become even more challenging because of the cost of land, because of the cost of infrastructure, because of entitlement risks and market risks.”

Jeff Grobstein, region president at Meritage Homes, said the master-planned communities provide some of the stability that home builders are looking for with infrastructure and amenities in place to help builders plan their projects. But there’s more to the business for the builders who are here.

“I think I can speak on behalf of most builders, we do look outside of master plans, and we do obtain land for communities outside of master plans,” Grobstein said. “They do typically take a little longer to bring online because we may have some sort of rezoning effort or entitlement effort to bring those online.

“In our portfolio of forward planning, we try to create a good mix of communities that are in good areas where we’ll be able to get into a particular buyer segment. It may take us two to three years to get through the entitlement effort and then another year to develop it, but we look at those outside areas in every market.”

For ticket information on “The Power of Real Estate Summit” on April 19, 2024 at the Tucson Convention Center, please click the link below:


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