The New 202
Plannings pays off for 202 South Mountain Freeway
By David Schwartz
Tom Tait Jr. just chuckles when quizzed about the future of his family’s land holdings in the West Valley, a large expanse of property that has been in the portfolio since the 1970s. Are there any great plans for development? Are there plans to flip the property and pocket the proceeds?
Not even close. Indeed, the past few years have raised the property’s worth, but that’s apparently where it ends. At least, he claims, that’s the thinking for now. “We are long-term owners of properties and really don’t bother much with any short-term benefits that there might be,” Tait says. “At the present time, we’re just farming the property. That’s what we’ve been doing and I don’t see that changing much. No matter what happens.” And apparently no matter what transportation planners have in store for the acreage.
The Tait family are among the owners of property in the vicinity of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway, a long-charted, controversial thoroughfare that eventually will span 22 miles and link Interstate 10 in the southeast and West valleys.
But it’s the stretch of the freeway that cuts through the burgeoning southwest Valley that recently was brought into sharper focus by the Arizona Department of Transportation. In late June, officials ended any uncertainty and revealed that the freeway would connect at 55th Avenue in Laveen—an old favorite seen on the map for at least the last two decades.
The route was a popular choice of the three options presented for review. Better than 71st Avenue. Better than 99th Avenue, south of Loop 101. It was hailed as the right choice by officials in Phoenix and several area municipalities. It too was welcomed by several landowners in the area. But it was neither a surprise, nor unexpected.
Land experts say that the decision by the state was important because it serves to cement the value for the land in the area to be affected by the proposed freeway. There is now a line drawn in pen that can’t be easily erased and sent back to the drawing board.
But experts are quick to add that property in the area has been soaring in value anyway during the last two years, as the real estate market careened through its boom times and those familiar red tile rooftops became a more frequent sight with each passing day.
There likely will be no land rush, they predict, unlike what occurred when other segments of the Valley’s freeway system were put into place in years past. “They are putting it where I think most people thought it was going to be,” says Greg Vogel, chief executive of Land Advisors Organization, which has offices in Arizona, Texas and Colorado. “I don’t think there was a drop in values while they were considering other options. It’s already been priced into the market and it’s been a long time coming.”
Besides, Vogel says, there is not a huge amount of land to be had in the area that will be directly affected by proposed freeway as it sweeps its way through the area. He said land costs now in the fast-growing Laveen area already are between $175,000 to $350,000 an acre, a dramatic increase from more than a decade ago. “This isn’t a case where there are 25 pieces (of land) with 30 different buyers and all kinds of things going on,” he says. “It has been thought through and organized, so you’re not going to see anything like you may have with other freeways.”
Pat Feeney, senior vice president of CB Richard Ellis in Phoenix, says he has watched a surge in valuation of available industrial land that began in summer 2004 and pushed prices to about $4 per square feet. That’s more than a five-fold increase from the early 1990s. “The net result is that almost every piece of land in the submarket is owned by a developer who will be building on their property,” says Feeney, who has been tracking industrial properties for about 20 years. “No one out there is a seller right now.”
He says he sees no revaluing of land in wake of the transportation department putting its official stamp on the freeway alignment in the southwest Valley. Officials say that’s because the proposed freeway has been on the books since 1985, when Maricopa County voters approved a Regional Freeway System that was supposed to take care of the Valley’s transportation needs. But a funding shortfall meant that this segment fell down the priority list of projects. At one point, it was seen as a potential toll road.
Fast forward to 2004. Voters approved Proposition 400 that provides money to pay for a Regional Transportation Plan that includes the South Mountain Freeway. Transportation officials say plans call for the freeway to cost an estimated $1.7 billion, with construction expected to be completed and ready for motorists in 2015. “It’s the future for that part of the West Valley,” says Debra Stark, Phoenix planning director. “We think we have done a good job planning and making sure land has been set aside.”
She says one needs only to look at an aerial map as proof. In one picture, a clear path for the freeway already has been set aside along 59th Avenue and Broadway Road. Houses can be seen on both sides. “What has helped is that unlike other areas, we’re not seeing as much housing or commercial development,” Stark says. “And as we’ve done zoning there, we’ve asked developers to set aside land for the 55th Avenue alignment. So we’re more prepared for when the freeway is built.”
As for Tait, there are no great preparations just yet for his family’s property. Asked about his time frame for development now that the freeway route has been picked, he says, “What, so now instead of 30 years, it’s 20 years? That’s still a long way away.”