Opponents hoping to stop or even slow down a 28,000-home development in Benson are more than a little late, says a partner in the company that’s planning the project.
The developers will proceed with their project — which they estimate will cost them $500 million in the first five years — even if the Benson City Council votes Monday to delay approval of a preliminary master plan for it, said Mike Reinbold of the Phoenix-based El Dorado Holdings.
Zoning on the property was approved more than 20 years ago, and developers don’t need council approval to go ahead with it, Reinbold said.
“What we’re doing has nothing to do with the zoning, the general plan or anything like that,” he said. “It’s implementing what is already approved. Any thought of delaying should have been exercised 23 years ago, when the original developer got the zoning on the project.”
Reinbold spoke to the Star about the project last week. Here are some highlights:
Q. Water is the biggest issue for many people concerned about the project. Can you guarantee that your project’s water use and pumping won’t dry up the San Pedro downstream?
A. We’re looking at the questions that were raised at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on water. We’ll respond in the next 60 days. We hear the questions. We need time to analyze them.
Q. Why not wait until then to get your plans approved?
A. We can start tomorrow with preliminary plats (formal layouts for subdivisions). We’re taking a different approach, creating a cohesive plan on the entire property.
The perception is that we’re rushing. We’re not rushing. We chose to say, “Let’s create a master plan, with consistency from the day we start to the day we end.”
Q. If the council says no, what would you do with your project?
A. We would start the first plat and use it as a non-council-approved plan. We don’t need a council-approved plan to do it.
Q. How much money will you invest in your project?
A. We’re still doing budgeting, but I would guess that in five years, our capital investment will be something approaching $500 million. It’s just a function of how fast the markets are and how fast we get through planning. We’ll spend close to $100 million just to open.
Q. How large will the houses be, and how much will they cost?
A. We have not programmed any product types, sizes or pricing at this point.
Q. What made you decide to model your project on the Tuscany region of Italy?
A. The topography in Benson is similar to that of the Tuscan region. People interpret Tuscan architecture to mean specific architectural styles. But Tuscany is made up of Spanish, French and Greek architecture — a lot of different cultures and countries. It’s Old World.
Q. Why don’t you develop a project that looks like the Southwest instead of somewhere else?
A. The community wants something different other than Tucson and Phoenix. They want us to create something that has a historic touch to it.
Our overall plan is to maintain structural consistency, so you don’t have a hodgepodge in architecture, trails and infrastructure. Part of that is minimizing the use of walls. Typically in Arizona we build walls, walls inside walls, and last but not least, we build more walls. In a community with a lot of open space and trails, the community feels expansive and rural. Tuscany has an expansive and rural feel.
Q. Who’s going to buy the houses there? What makes you think people will flock to Benson, now population 5,100?
A. Our market is North America. We will have an age-targeted development for active adults (meaning people 55 and older), as well as a development for families. We will attract both. Just in the development process, there will be several thousand people employed there, and they will want to buy homes there.
Q. Where will the residents work?
A. A good percentage will work in Benson — they’re not going to be commuters to Tucson. There’s going to be an expansion of the Benson hospital, adding 50 beds plus a wellness center. When these homes happen, there will be more needs for doctors, lawyers and others to locate.
Benson is totally depressed; people there will tell you that. It needs stimulation. It hasn’t attracted employers because it doesn’t have housing or infrastructure. It doesn’t have things that employers will be attracted to.
Q. Many economists will tell you that you can’t sell houses until you have jobs, not the other way around.
A. I’m not an economist, I’m a successful developer. More times than not, I’ve outcalled their predictions.
Q. You hope to break ground in late 2015 or early 2016. When do you expect to start selling houses?
A. Assuming we start in first quarter 2016, it will take 18 months to do our first phase of improvements and amenities. House building will take 18 to 24 months. Our first homes will be occupied in late 2017 early 2018. There will be a 20-year period from the start to the end of construction. We’ll build 2,000 a year during good times, 750 in slow times, and there could be 2,500 in hot times.
Q. How much public investment will be needed for roads to handle all the traffic?
A. A traffic study will tell us if we need public investment, but I don’t think there will be a material increase in traffic on Highway 90. I don’t see it as a bedroom community to Tucson. Normally, people travel to shop and to work and for entertainment. The shopping and entertainment will develop on-site, although I’m sure people will go to Tucson on the weekend to go to a restaurant or something.
Q. You say in your master plan that the height limits will be 80 feet, except for iconic structures such as towers. How tall will they be?
A. I have no idea. They could be 50 or 60, they could be 90 feet, they could be 500. Probably not, but theoretically, yes.