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State to auction off land in Pinal County to share in development proceeds

APACHE JUNCTION — More than four square miles of state land in Pinal County is being auctioned off this coming month for what might seem like bargain-basement prices.

But odds are you won’t be to bid on it even if you have the $68 million minimum bid price — or at least the 10% down with 25 years to pay it off.

In what appears to be the first-of-a-kind auction, the Arizona Land Department will be taking bids only from those with unrestricted cash or equivalents of at least $40 million, have a net worth of not less than $400 million, and have “relevant experience’’ in developing a planned community of at least 1,000 acres and at least 2,000 residential units.

But top officials at the Arizona Land Department say the minimum bid price in the range of $25,000 an acre is not giving anything away. Nor they say is it aimed at giving Brookfield Residential, the developer who made the request for the auction for the 2,783 acre parcel in Apache Junction and adjacent to existing development, a leg up over others.

Instead, state Land Commissioner Lisa Atkins argues this unique arrangement is designed to maximize the revenue for the state, at least over the long haul, even if the up-front price tag is less than $25,000 an acre.

Some of it, Atkins told Capitol Media Services, is ensuring that whoever makes the successful bid actually can complete the project. She said there has been a history of buyers acquiring state land but then defaulting when the plans fall through.

But Wesley Mehl, the agency’s special projects coordinator, said it’s even more complex than that.

He said the deal requires whoever is the successful bidder to install all the infrastructure improvements — water, utilities and roads — not just on the parcel bought but on the entire 8,200 acres the state owns at the site. That, in turn, will make those adjacent properties more valuable when the state puts that up for sale, perhaps in the neighborhood of $250,000 an acre.

Mehl balked at describing the deal as a loss leader.

“It’s not a loss,’’ he said.

“We will make substantial revenue in this deal directly,’’ Mehl said of the $68 million minimum bid. “But then we will make better revenue on the adjacent land because of this deal.’’

Jim Perry, the deputy state land commissioner, called it “an accounting thing.’’

He said if those other parcels sell for $250,000 an acre, some of that likely should be attributed to this deal which installed all that infrastructure making the adjacent land more valuable.

There’s more.

The deal contains a kind of profit-sharing arrangement: When the developer sells off parcels to individual builders, the state gets 50 percent of the profits.

All totaled, Mehl said, the state could end up reaping about $150,000 an acre “depending on market conditions.’’ And that, he said, doesn’t count the increased value of the remaining state land.

And Perry said even the financing works to the state’s benefit, with the developer given 25 years to pay off the balance — at 7 percent interest.

What the agency is hoping for is a planned community like DC Ranch in Scottsdale or, closer to home, the Eastmark development which Brookfield has put together west of the land involved here.

Mehl said the parcel might have been worth more had Mesa, along the western border on Meridian Road, agreed to annex it.

There already is a development on that side of the street. And that would have ensured there were services available.

But Mesa, he said, showed no interest. So that left the state coming up with a plan to have all of the land — what’s being sold and what’s being held back — annexed into Apache Junction.

Mehl said that $68 million appraisal, which is the minimum bid price, reflects all the conditions that the ultimate buyer has to fulfill, including the infrastructure to the adjacent state land.

While Brookfield is the entity that requested the land be put up for auction, Perry said that does not guarantee that the company will get it — or that it will go for the minimum.

“We have another master planned community developer who’s displayed significant interest,’’ he said. “We believe they may bid.’’

Two others, Perry said, also have displayed what he called significant interest.

“And there may be others,’’ he said.

All this comes amid concerns of the lack of affordable housing, particularly for first-time homebuyers. But Atkins said that is not a concern of her agency in auctioning off this parcel and the conditions attached to it. In fact, she said, it legally cannot be taken into consideration.

“Our responsibility is best and highest use of the portfolio assets, whether it’s land, water, minerals, whatever it is,’’ she said. Atkins said all that is left to the market.

But there is at least an indirect role for the agency that controls 9.2 million acres. And that, said Mehl, requires the department to serve demand where it exists.

“Given the amount of land that the Land Department owns, you could influence prices if you fail to sell enough land, or if you sell too much land,’’ he said. “We’re trying to hit the right velocity and sell when there is quality demand for a parcel.’’

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Drive-by party celebrates WWII vet's 96th birthday

CASA GRANDE — Bob Brutinel sat in a chair in the center of his front lawn Friday morning as a caravan with dozens of well-wishers drove by waving, honking horns and wishing him a happy birthday.

The World War II veteran and retired plumber turned 96 Friday and area residents, co-workers, professional associates and family members helped him observe his birthday with a COVID-safe celebration.

“Today is all about Bob,” said Wes Baker, owner of Brutinel Plumbing & Electrical.

Until COVID-19 hit the area, Brutinel, who sold his business years ago, was still going in to work every day.

“He was working and plumbing and if not for COVID, he’d still be coming in every day,” Baker said. “He was born to work.”

Brutinel started Brutinel Plumbing & Electrical in Casa Grande in 1949, soon after WWII.

An Iwo Jima veteran, he joined the Marine Corps on Sept. 5, 1942, the day after he turned 18.

He went on to serve with the 27th Marine Regiment and was one of about 70,000 Marines tasked with freeing the Pacific Island from Japanese control.

He was wounded by a Japanese sniper bullet in a battle that nearly wiped out his Marine company. During his war years, he earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

After the war, Brutinel, who was originally from Clifton, married his wife, Maxine, and moved to Casa Grande. The couple raised four children together.

Brutinel studied plumbing as an apprentice and later opened his own business in 1949.

He still lives in the home on Brown Avenue, across from Carr McNatt Park, that he purchased in 1948.

Since selling the plumbing business, Brutinel has stayed busy by going into the office every day, meeting with customers and continuing to work.

“When COVID hit, his daughters decided he’d better stay home,” Baker said. “I know he misses coming in every day.”

The Friday morning celebration also observed the retirement of Linda Curry, who had served as office manager for Brutinel Plumbing & Electrical for more than 30 years.

Curry retired in March but due to COVID-19, a celebration was put on hold.

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CG panel OKs apartments, asphalt plant requests

CASA GRANDE — Residents may see a large apartment complex breaking ground early next year after the Casa Grande Planning and Zoning Commission approved the site plan Thursday.

The development will be a 284-unit apartment complex west of Camino Mercado, south of the future Warne Way and south of Florence Boulevard.

The complex is proposed to be a mixture of two- and three-story buildings not to exceed a height of 40 feet. The complex will include a clubhouse, swimming pool and dog park.

“We definitely need more apartments,” Commissioner David Snider said during the meeting.

According to the applicant, the company hopes to break ground by the middle of January 2021.

“This whole corner here is going to become a whole urban center,” John McGuire, a resident who is the administrator of the Casa Grande Local Government and Economic Improvement Discussion Facebook group, said.

During the meeting, McGuire mentioned that the project is crucial and needed. “Everything I’m hearing from the people I’m speaking with is that they are extremely excited about this,” McGuire said.

The City Council must approve it during a future meeting for the project to officially be underway.

The commission also approved a few other projects.

Wright Asphalt requested land use approval for the development of an asphalt blending facility in Central Arizona Commerce Park on the west side of the city.

The facility consists of a tank yard, rail and truck loading and unloading areas, interconnected above-ground piping and supporting buildings for administration, lab, operations, warehousing and utilities.

During the public hearing, commissioners asked questions about fluid spills and water usage.

“The facility will be state of the art,” said the representative for Wright Asphalt. According to the applicant, water usage would be very low.

The request was approved with a conditional use permit that is required to allow for the processing of goods or products to conform to city requirements regarding emissions, toxic or noxious materials or odors within the I-2 zone district.

The commission also approved a request by Verizon Wireless to use about 2.8 acres at Thornton Road and Val Vista Boulevard for a wireless tower. This request will also need approval by the City Council.

Despite some discussion about widening Val Vista Boulevard, DR Horton was approved for a designs in a housing development within Gila Buttes subdivision, intending to construct single-family homes.

The City Council will meet Tuesday evening due to the Labor Day holiday.