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Dirt lot dreams: Developers seek opportunities in dense West Valley

Posted 7/20/17

The swatch of land at the northwestern tip of Sun City West, highlighted in pink, remains undeveloped and will likely stay that way, due to lack of access to the property. By Matt Roy, Independent …

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Dirt lot dreams: Developers seek opportunities in dense West Valley

The swatch of land at the northwestern tip of Sun City West, highlighted in pink, remains undeveloped and will likely stay that way, due to lack of access to the property.
By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

As development accelerates, the last few undeveloped properties in the community come into sharper focus.

Called “infill” by those in the business, such stragglers represent the last few bites at the apple for development companies and commercial real estate firms looking to seize on opportunities in a nearly saturated market.

Some patches of dirt sit unturned next to dense residential neighborhoods built decades ago. One may stand on the verge of transformation. Yet another remains hopelessly landlocked by market forces or unfortunate geography.

While dozens of infill opportunities remain untapped, this article will examine four such properties across the Northwest Valley.

Sun City West

A triangular splotch of caliche-laden desert lays conspicuously dormant among the dense home sites at the northwestern tip of Sun City West.

The five parcels north of the Deer Valley Road alignment, east of Grand Avenue and south of the Loop 303, comprise 50.5 acres, which are owned by Maricopa Department of Transportation.

Any potential use of that land is complicated by a lack of access. Hemmed in by backyard privacy walls, everything along the Deer Valley Road alignment east of 151st Avenue is either drainage canal owned by the Flood Control District of Maricopa County or abandoned roadway fading into the desert to the west, just shy of Grand Avenue.

“Maricopa County owns that land,” said Recreation Centers of Sun City West General Services Officer Katy O’Grady. “It is basically landlocked since it has no access to Loop 303. The county only very infrequently puts it up for sale. I don’t know what their current plans are. They are probably just holding it until someone expresses an interest.”

Without access from Grand Avenue – both sides of which are owned by Santa Fe Railroad – or another arterial roadway, finding a valuable use of the land is nearly impossible.

MCDOT Communications Branch Manager Nicole Moon confirmed the county is not currently looking to use or sell the land.

“The MCDOT property adjacent to Sun City West and the Loop 303 comprises an approximately 54-acre property that is excess to MCDOT projects. This property is not currently being marketed for sale,” Ms. Moon stated in an email.

Two more smaller plots totaling 5.2 acres, just south of the Deer Valley Road alignment on either side of the Loop 303, are owned by Pulte Homes (nee Del Webb Home Construction) and are similarly unusable.

Sun City

One historic Sun City property, for decades the home of the Daily News-Sun building, is now just a fence-rimmed patch of crumbling asphalt.

The building on Santa Fe Drive northwest of 99th Avenue was razed last year after its owner, 1013 Communications, sold most of its holdings to Independent Newsmedia, parent company of Independent Newspapers, which now produces its former properties, including the Daily News-Sun, Glendale Today, Peoria Today and Surprise Today.

The abandoned site is owned by the Royal Oaks Retirement Community, but the land’s future remains uncertain, according Kendra Eberhart, Royal Oaks president and CEO.

“We are in the process of working with a consultant on master planning and will include that land in our planning, but have not determined a use for it yet,” Ms. Eberhart stated in an email. “We hope to be completed with our master planning by the end of the year.”

Royal Oaks owns a scattering of other properties along Santa Fe Drive, interspersed among a few still-open businesses, including an animal hospital, golf car retailer and several automotive service shops.

Straddling the canal along Grand Avenue, a large portion of the strip was once a railroad spur for Del E. Webb Construction Company for delivering construction materials. Vestiges of that former land use remain, including an existing bridge crossing over the canal, which is no longer visible from the roadway.

Empty land between the new $3 Car Wash and the riverbed and in front of Coyote Lakes storage is pictured July 13 near 115th Avenue and Bell Road in Surprise.

Located on the north side of Bell Road between 115th Avenue and Coyote Lakes Parkway, a trio of parcels west of the new car wash and to the east and south of the recently raised Coyote Lakes storage facility, sits empty.

Comprising 7.4 acres, the property is listed to an entity (presumably a holding company) called Bell 115 LLC, which shares a Phoenix address with Land Development Consultants.

Brian Gausden of Western Retail Advisors said the undeveloped land, which features nearly 700 feet of frontage along Bell Road, has generated interest, if not buyers.

“We’ve been getting all kinds of inquiries on it, but no real offers,” Mr. Gausden said.

One interested party suggested the land could be used for an assisted living facility, he said. However, such a use would require rezoning through the city of Surprise, since the parcels fall within the Coyote Lakes planned area development and are currently zoned community commercial, which is designated C-2.

Community commercial land may be used for a variety of purposes, such as office space, medical office, retail, restaurant, drive-through, self-serve laundry or funeral home, among many options. Some uses – such as the recently added car wash and storage facility – may require a conditional use permit, though not a rezoning.


Plans have swirled for more than a decade for use of 18.3 acres of land at the northeast corner 83rd Avenue and Thunderbird Road.

Originally platted as Griffith Commerce Center, it is now known as Arrowhead Commerce Center, which includes five parcels totaling 7.2 acres. The frontage along 83rd Avenue – comprised of three parcels on 4.5 acres – is already developed and occupied by a small retail strip and two drive-through restaurant pads.

Situated at the intersection, the strip contains a vape shop, frozen yogurt shop, nail salon and Jimmie Johns subs, as well as a vacant retail space. The drive-through pads include a Culver’s restaurant and a soon-to-open Dutch Bros. Coffee location. When the new Dutch Bros. drive-through opens, its nearby sister store west of 83rd Avenue will remain in business as well, said Caleb Berkey, the franchisee for the chain’s West Valley locations. The new location will be open 24 hours a day, while the older one will revert to regular hours, he added.

The remaining two portions of the commerce center, a .7-acre strip adjacent to the drive-throughs, appears to be a parking lot. The 2.1-acre plot to the south, which fronts Thunderbird Road, is unpaved. County records list the owner as First-Citizens Bank & Trust Company and one local real estate expert suggested a bank could someday occupy that space.

Terry Pollick of Realty Executives said he has not dealt with the property in more than three years and was unsure of what the rest of the land might become.

“One of the front properties could be a car wash and a bank also owns one,” Mr. Pollick said. “We’re waiting to see how that develops.”

Sandwiched between the strip and single-family housing to the north and east, the remaining five parcels total 11 acres and fall under a city of Peoria planned area development, which stipulates land use that could include a high-density, multi-family housing project.

However, plans for a 183-unit apartment complex – which included an impact-fee agreement between a developer and the Peoria Unified School District in 2015, as well as a January 2016 unanimous council approval for a project called T83 – have not come to fruition.

Mr. Pollick suggested the property’s owner, a Canadian investor, could shed light on the stalled housing project, but calls to his Saskatoon, Saskatchewan office were not returned as of press time.


Fences have finally gone up around the long-vacant lot at the northwest corner of 51st Avenue and Bell Road.

Glendale City Council in May unanimously approved a final plat for the property, which was requested by the Empire Group for an 11-lot commercial subdivision on 21 acres located at 5200 West Bell Road.

Shelby Duplessis, a professional civil engineer with credentials from the U.S. Green Building Council, is vice president of land development for Empire Group. Her firm will spend $1.5 million to prepare the site for further development, she stated in an email.

“We will be completing all of the off-site and on-site horizontal main infrastructure improvements, including utilities, median, curb and gutter, sidewalk, street lights, entry monumentation, site signage and site walls,” Ms. Duplessis stated.

The monument in question will be a “Welcome to Glendale” sign and the property will be ready to market by the fall. After that, each of the site’s 11 segments will be marketed to individual developers, she explained.

“We are in the process of selling each of the 11 pads off individually, either to end users or other developers,” Ms. Duplessis stated. “Each individual development will have their own contractors as well to provide improvements for both onsite and vertical construction. We anticipate several pads will be constructed and ready for business the first of 2018 with all developments open for business by the end of 2018.”

The site could see a variety of commercial and retail uses, some of which are already specifically approved by Glendale planning and zoning officials, potentially streamlining future development, she stated.

“We are anticipating several drive-through restaurants, sit down restaurants and retail spaces, along with a Dignity Health Care ER at the hard corner,” Ms. Duplessis state. “Each user will need to go into the city for site plan and engineering approval, however the approved PAD was written such to allow these types of uses without any additional zoning effort.”