As new-home prices continue to rise, local homebuilders are filling in the gaps, creating small housing communities in pockets around Tucson and helping keep the cost of new homes affordable.
While most national homebuilders want large swaths of lands to create master-planned developments, local builders are eyeing infill opportunities on vacant lots and at shuttered schools to create communities in existing neighborhoods.
“To be able to refresh these abandoned sites is a source of pride for us,” said Steve Crawford, chief operating officer for Pepper Viner Homes. “Since they’re in an established neighborhood, you can’t just plunk down a movie theater, for example.”
The local homebuilders are not only breathing new life into neighborhoods, they’re also giving buyers a break on new-home pricing, which has soared well over $300,000 in the past two years in the Tucson market. While some national builders are opening communities with prices starting around $400,000, some recent infill projects so far have remained below $300,000.
Pepper Viner recently got the City Council’s permission to rezone the former Corbett Elementary School at 5949 E. 29th St. for a 71-home community, which should be open for sales next year — at which time prices will be determined.
It will be the third school site that Pepper Viner has turned into housing.
The homebuilder also developed the former Wrightstown and Van Horn elementary schools.
Corbett has been closed since 2013.
“When these schools close, that attracts things that are not always welcome in the neighborhood,” Crawford said. “We like to think that this is going to be a very positive thing.”
Because the lot sizes are small, amenities such as swimming pools and clubhouses are not feasible, which helps keep costs down.
“For our projects, the amenity is the location,” Crawford said.
Another local homebuilder, A.F. Sterling, is also creating infill housing communities.
Two active sites, one in the Sam Hughes Neighborhood and one just north of Tucson Boulevard and Prince Road, will have 12 and 15 homes, respectively, in a gated community.
“If you look at the larger projects that the nationals look for, it’s typically not infill,” said Frank Della Coppa, sales and marketing manager for A.F. Sterling. “That’s why we take these smaller lots and make it work with something unique.”
He said buyers appreciate being in new homes with energy efficiencies and smart technology features that are still within an existing neighborhood.
Las Cabañas, on Tucson Boulevard, is close to the river walk and near the University of Arizona auxiliary projects on north Campbell Avenue.
It opened in October and has already sold six of the 15 planned homes.
David Godlewski, president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, said these infill communities are critical to sustainability.
“This type of smaller infill project is a prime example of what we need to continue meeting the demands of homebuyers,” he said. “Local homebuilders … have done a great job about adapting to meet the needs of the market (and) are able to get creative and develop desirable communities in areas that might otherwise get overlooked.”