By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
A lonely patch of desert north of Sun City West may soon be home to thousands of new residents thanks to the recent revival of a long-dormant housing project.
Called Rancho Mercado, the project had been shelved since 2007 due to the Great Recession, but has found new life with the June 20 approval of an agreement between the city of Surprise and land developer William Lyons Homes, who broke ground earlier this year.
The developer is now building infrastructure for the area, including water, sewer and roads, according to Troy Wahlberg, director of land acquisition for WLH.
“We had a groundbreaking in April and have started grading,” Mr. Wahlberg said. “We are in the process of bringing the offsite sewer line into the subdivision. We have roadway improvement plans in with the city of Surprise, which are also being reviewed by Maricopa County. After we get through those approvals and preliminary construction, that allows us to start full construction on the roadways.”
The community will rise in an area roughly bounded by Jomax Road south to the Loop 303, and from Bullard Avenue to Litchfield Road. Although on county land, the area currently falls within the 85373 ZIP Code and is technically (though not actually) Sun City. However, the development agreement lays the groundwork for land annexation by Surprise.
City officials said they welcome not only growth, but also the connections new infrastructure will foster, especially with roadway improvements.
“While development of this project is of value to the city of Surprise, one of the greatest attributes is the construction of Happy Valley Road,” stated Virginia Mungovan, a public information officer for the city by email. “Currently, there is little to no roadway connectivity in the area. The city partnered on a project to pave Jomax Road, which opened last year and provided another point of access. Prior to that, there was only one paved way in or out via 163rd Avenue.”
New stretches of Happy Valley Road will connect the new community to Surprise as well as its eastern neighbor, Peoria. Going west, the new two-lane road will run from 149th to 163rd Avenue, where an improved intersection will be built. Going east, the road will run from Litchfield Road to Granada Boulevard, with bridge and drainage construction along both stretches, according to a presentation by Surprise Community Development Director Eric Fitzer at a June council meeting.
Ms. Mungovan said the investment will be a boon to future development in the area, also boosting safety for those who will eventually take up residence there.
“With the construction of Happy Valley Road, this provides three options for residents and emergency services to access the area. Not only does this infrastructure entice development, it provides convenience and increased access for emergency services,” she stated.
The area already has nearby access to emergency services, with the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority (formerly known as North County Fire & Medical District) Fire Station 104, 24930 N. 119th Ave., less than one mile away. Because of mutual aid agreements, which are in place across the Phoenix metro area, future Rancho Mercado residents can count on short response times from AFMA crews, whose service area overlaps that part of the Northwest Valley, according to Eric Kriwer, a spokesperson for the district.
“AFMA will provide services according to our agreements with the automatic-aid system in the newly developed area,” stated Mr. Kriwer by email. “We are proud partners of the automatic-aid system that has been proven to be a benefit to Maricopa County citizens and residents of the Phoenix area for many years.”
He stated until and if Surprise were to add a station nearby, AFMA has ample capacity to respond to calls there.
“It is very beneficial for communities to be able to grow, since that growth provides additional resources, which in turn assists all the partners,” Mr. Kriwer stated. “The agreements will be honored and calls for service will be answered by qualified emergency responders. In the end, everyone wins with community growth, fast and effective emergency service to our communities, and the opportunity to create a safe work environment for our personnel.”
The community will also be served by Surprise Fire-Medical Department’s Fire Station 304, 24900 N. 163rd Ave., which lies two miles west at the future intersection of 163rd and Happy Valley. The city will build a second fire station in the community, if needed, on land already set aside in the development, Ms. Mungovan confirmed.
Mr. Wahlberg said the infrastructure construction will be fully underway by the end of the year, with completion of roadway improvements slated for early 2019. In addition to the new roads, the developer will construct a water campus, as well as facilities for water storage, arsenic treatment, wells, transmission lines, booster pumps and water mains.
The capacity of those upgrades will exceed that needed for the homes of Rancho Mercado and access to the extra capacity will be available for purchase by other land developers looking to build homes nearby, Mr. Wahlberg explained.
“We do a standalone water campus. That’s great for William Lyons Homes, but doesn’t help anyone else,” he said. “What makes sense is to make this water campus large enough and expandable beyond our needs.”
Other builders who wish to buy in would pay a portion of the impact fees associated with the services provided within their own communities. Because the plans are already approved, this approach will encourage more and faster land development nearby, Mr. Wahlberg suggested.
“The individual infrastructure projects will already be approved or constructed, depending on where you’re at,” he said. “It could be water, sewer or roads. If it’s there, then it accelerates their development quite a bit.”
Vertical construction – meaning the building of actual home sites – will commence in mid-2019, with initial plans for 1,931 lots to be built in four phases. The community will feature six different lots sizes with multiple product lines of varying density, all of which will be single-family homes, Mr. Wahlberg added.
For a community that, according to the original planned area development, could someday encompass more than 3,400 homes with 12,000 residents, another fire station and a new school will also be needed. The agreements between WLH and Surprise provide for those needs as well, Mr. Wahlberg said.
“There are school sites and a fire station site are designated within the overall PAD,” he said. “William Lyon will be donating a school site to the Dysart district. The district will build the school when necessary.”
Ms. Mungovan clarified that the future community will likely be served by school districts in Surprise and Peoria.
“The Rancho Mercado property is split between two school districts,” she stated. “East of Litchfield Road, the property is within the Peoria Unified School District. West of there, the property lies within the Dysart Unified School District.”