Last week’s sale of the 2 square miles of state trust land southwest of the Superstition Mountains established a gateway for Apache Junction to evolve from a quaint throw-back to Arizona’s younger days to the East Valley’s next haven of modern family life.
Apache Junction, Pinal County, the State Land Department and private business groups such as the East Valley Partnership have been preparing for the eventual development of 275 square miles stretching east toward Superior and south toward Florence that’s now called Superstition Vistas.
The goal is to establish a series of master-planned communities that meld together coherently while addressing needs such as water, transportation, open space, employment and retail centers. The scale of effort is unprecedented in the state’s history but, if successful, would produce a self-sustaining community of up to 1 million people with few peers in the entire Valley.
Lost Dutchman Heights, currently vacant desert located south of U.S. 60 that is slated for new housing, is considered the first step in fulfilling the vision of Superstition Vistas and is critical to Apache Junction’s future plans. A recent cooling in the housing market had state and local officials worried they might not attract a buyer who would commit to additional development planning, placing years of work in jeopardy.
But last week’s state auction revealed that Superstition Vistas in on the right track. Two out-of-state partnerships competed back and forth until Las Vegas-based Desert Communities Inc. came out on top at $58.6 million, or $13.4 million more than the assessed value. The money will go into a trust to fund education.
Not only does Desert Communities plan to build up to 4,000 homes at Lost Dutchman Heights, the developer also has pledged to spend $6 million for land-use studies of another 12 square miles to kick off Superstition Vistas.
Naturally, some longtime residents of Apache Junction and nearby areas are upset by the likely loss of long miles of desert landscape. But others are looking forward to the change, such as Clint Nichols of Mesa, who owns industrial land near Lost Dutchman Heights.
“This is finally going to bring some activity to the area,” Nichols told the Tribune’s J. Craig Anderson.
Superstition Vistas represents a rare opportunity for state and local officials to build a new city from the first dirt lot, with a clear understanding of how to rely on private development and the free market to bring their visions to life.