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Schnepfs sell land for build-to-rent community in Queen Creek

Mark Schnepf was looking for a home developer who would honor the area's rural look.
Mark Schnepf was looking for a home developer who would honor the area's rural look.
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One of the founding members of Queen Creek is selling 13 acres to build rental housing.

Mark Schnepf, who helped lead incorporation efforts for Queen Creek and later became the town’s first mayor, is the co-owner of the highly popular Schnepf Farms.

Recently, he sold a small parcel of family land to developer Empire Group of Cos., which is working with Mark and Carrie Schnepf to develop a community that incorporates the farm’s attributes and history. The Village at Schnepf Farms will be at the northwest corner of Rittenhouse and Cloud roads. The community is under construction and targeted to begin leasing in late 2022.

The gated build-for-rent community will offer 144 one-, two- and three-bedroom single-story homes with smart technology and private landscaped backyards. Interior design and architecture will incorporate modern farmhouse elements to honor the farm's history and its surrounding areas. Some  housing will be duplexes.

Schnepf said because the farm had no plans to expand onto those 13 acres, selling the family land for rental housing was an easy decision. Finding a developer that would work with the Schnepfs’ vision, however, was more difficult.

“We've been planning on developing that corner for a while. It's not a good commercial corner because Cloud Road is primarily a residential street and not a commercial-type street and we couldn't put single- family housing there because it's too close to all of our activities,” Schnepf said. “Since commercial and single family was out, we considered doing what we call build-to-rent cottages. We took a look at that product and said, you know that would probably work there. It would create housing opportunities; we probably would be able to have some future employees or even current employees live close to the farm and those were all benefits.

Schnepf said some developers did not want to stray from their usual offerings.

“A lot of times developers simply have a look or have a formula or something that they all use and they're not willing to do anything different,” he said.

But the Empire Group was different.

“The sense we got was it was really important to them to keep the family integrity in the farm and really understanding and respecting that history,” said Shelby JM Duplessis, president of land development for the Empire Group. “There are things that we've done that I don't think the Schenpfs even expected, such as incorporating their family logo and the year of the establishment of their farm into our community center wall. I think that was important to them that we somehow found a way to integrate them into our development and, more importantly, integrate our community into their farm.”

And Empire Group is bringing Schnepf’s vision to life.

“Whenever we sell a piece of property, the purpose is to preserve the core, so we took a look at that type of product and then we found a builder who was willing to work with us and design the cottages that would look like little farm cottages or little houses that would look like they belonged on a farm,” Schnepf said. “They have pitched roofs and they have little front porches. We don't own any part of it, but we wanted to make sure that the look of it was compatible with the whole farm.

In addition to walking paths and a neighborhood dog park, the community will feature a resort-style pool and clubhouse with a fully equipped fitness center. There also will be covered parking, electric car charging stations, a dog wash salon, and barbecue and lawn game area. 

Queen Creek has a dearth of rental units when compared with its explosive growth, said Thomas Brophy, research director at Colliers Phoenix offices.

According to Brophy, based on an analysis of current projects planned in Queen Creek from now until 2025, a little more than 600 new units are expected to be delivered. If Queen Creek continues to the see the same growth it has during the past decade, there will be a sustained rental housing deficit of plus or minus 200 units.

“It should be noted that the housing deficit is, in part, based on household rentership percentages staying at its current 12% reading,” he said. “As home prices continue to escalate, and most likely exceed $600,000 in the near future, renter households are sure to increase. If renter households increase by a marginal 5% to 17%, which even at 17% would be toward the lowest renter household readings in the metropolitan statistical area, then the housing deficit increases to over 500.”

Currently, the average sales price for homes in the Queen Creek area are a little more than $588,000, which is $75,000 higher than the MSA as a whole. Queen Creek’s estimated monthly average mortgage is $3,906 or $473 above the MSA. Average rent for Queen Creek is nearly $2,050 less than the average mortgage at $1,857.

Duplessis said she won't know rental prices on the homes until they begin being leased out.

As a resident who has seen Queen Creek grow by leaps and bounds during the years, Schnepf isn’t surprised by the need for multifamily housing.

“For many years, the only real multifamily or rental housing that we had was right in the downtown area and I’m aware of other projects like the one going on here that are the single-level rental product,” Schnepf said. “I think the community is catching up but yes, I think there's a need for it in the community.”

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