By wayne schutsky GSN Managing Editor

The southern edge of Gilbert that borders Chandler and open county land still bears traces of the town’s agricultural legacy.

The area is changing, though, as population growth in Gilbert drives landowners to sell to builders eager to meet growing demand from homebuyers.

The area is full of placards from builders like Shea Homes, Toll Brothers and Taylor Morrison touting developments that have popped up in recent years. Another sizable master-planned community is on the horizon.

Gilbert annexed more than 160 acres of county land at Val Vista Drive and Chandler Heights Road to accommodate a new community from Maracay Homes. That Val Vista Dairy land currently houses hundreds of cows, a honey stand and dilapidated farming properties.

The area, once dominated by dairy farms, now is becoming a haven for developers.

The trend is ironic, given that dairies first fled to Gilbert and Chandler more than 50 years ago to escape residential encroachment in the Tempe area, said Keith Murfield, CEO of United Dairymen of Arizona.

However, in recent years, increasing land values, traffic congestion and pressure from growing residential communities have caused many dairies to consider moving or closing.

“It depends on their age and different things, but if they are in their 60s or older, they might say this is a good time to retire,” Murfield said.

Murfield said that many dairies that move are relocating farther south, to Stanfield and east of Casa Grande.

The Gilbert Town Council on May 3 modified zoning on the property from rural-farm and open-land to residential. The new zoning allows the developer to build more than 300 one- and two-story homes on plots in the 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot range.

The development will force infrastructure upgrades, including road, waterline and wastewater line improvements. Maracay has committed to including these improvements in the initial phases of construction, according to town documents.

Those documents also show that the development will cause a significant increase in traffic. The developer has worked with the town and Chandler to address those issues.

Maracay will be responsible for roadway improvements on roads adjacent to the development, including Val Vista Drive and Chandler Heights Road.

“One of the benefits of the new developments of this size near existing development is they will improve arterial roads,” Gilbert Planning Manager Linda Edwards said.

The developer’s road improvements are in conjunction with a Gilbert capital-improvement project that will significantly increase the capacity of Val Vista Drive. That project will affect Val Vista from Appleby to Riggs roads, Gilbert Senior Planner Nathan Williams said.

Gilbert’s CIP improvements include widening Val Vista to three lanes in each direction, with a raised median and improved landscaping, Edwards said. The town expects to begin construction in October and complete it in July 2020.

Maracay has proposed a gated subdivision off 148th Street on roughly half of the lot on the west side of the property. The rest of the land would be reserved for one- and two-story homes on plots of at least 7,000 square feet. The community would feature small pocket parks.

Maracay Homes does not yet own the land — Maricopa County Assessor’s Office records show that the site is divided into plots owned by multiple entities, including Val Vista Dairy owner Siebe Hamstra — but a representative for the builder confirmed that it was in negotiations to purchase land in the area.

Maracay’s plans incorporate nearby recreational amenities, including Veteran’s Oasis Park to the west and the regional unpaved trail that runs along Brooks Farm Road.

According to city documents, “the site design does propose some access points/connections and attempts to activate the western boundary of the subject site to tie into the park.”

The proposal includes plans to extend the unpaved trail south along 148th Street.

The development would meet housing demand in Gilbert, which is especially high in the 85298 ZIP code where the site is located, said Tina Tamboer, senior research analyst at The Cromford Report, a residential real estate market analysis service.

“There is under two months supply, and it is declining,” Tamboer said.

Tamboer said that the area’s proximity to technology employment centers in Chandler and Tempe make it attractive to homebuyers. That demand coupled with the lack of supply resulted in stable, high home prices.

Maracay Homes has not yet announced pricing in the development, though the large lot sizes suggest they will be at the higher end of the market.

“The Southeast Valley has been hot all year,” Tamboer said. “It is one of the few areas that still has land, and it is close to cities and close to transportation. Lots of builders are focusing on high-end properties because of the high cost to build and cost to acquire land.”

The new supply of homes could benefit homebuyers by lowering prices as sellers in the area are forced to compete with the newer product for buyers’ attention

“That would actually be good for buyers, because price appreciation will slow,” Tamboer said.