New planning for other side of Cornville Road, VSF sees wine culture as lure

"We are not off and running, yet, but we have brought it back to the forefront and we are all fired up."

Brookfield Communities Founder and President Phil Peterson is referring to what in the past was called Bella Montana, the 750 acres of Republic Properties north of Cornville Road. But, forget that name. The proposed development is now part of "a new vision" that Peterson says will be better suited to the rural character of the area.

Originally, the plan called for numerous residential properties, but also 200 acres of commercial development. Peterson said that was imagined with "big box stores" as part of the commercial segment during the early days of the 2000s.

"That was what commercial activity was like in those days," he said. Those days are gone and the commercial proposal is now much subtler. No big boxes, but, rather, a wine tasting center.

"We are going to kick this off with the commercial development," he said.

Instead of a golf course, there would be lots of open space surrounding the residential area. "We will keep the washes free and natural and thread the area with walking trails," he said.

Peterson says Brookfield will partner directly with Jay Stuckey and Republic, rather than investors that were part of the Verde Santa Fe Development. The commercial development will adopt an "old frontier Arizona" architectural motif, he said, along SR 89A. "I have to give Jay the credit" for the wine experience theme, said Peterson.

He says the plan is to get 15-20 different wineries in a series of buildings all together and have a joint wine tasting area, surrounded by some cafes, boutique-type restaurants and then the several acres would be surrounded by vineyards. "We would have the local wineries participating with us to help get that established."

The commercial area would also include a resort and medical center that is being planned with the help of the hospital.

Peterson said Brookfield is still working in Verde Santa Fe with about 13 properties remaining. But, he emphasized, "everything we do in this (new) project is meant to complement to Verde Santa Fe. We have a long history there."

He said Brookfield first started planning about 2004, but then everything was put on hold when the recession caused development to stall.

Unlike many developers, Peterson said Brookfield has no debts: "We own all our land and can move forward unencumbered now that the economy is starting to show signs of rebounding. Brookfield is very healthy."

The company also has a 730-acre project in Bullhead City, Fox Creek, that it is expanding.

One difference from the Verde Santa Fe development is that Brookfield will work with the city, not with the county, since the new land was annexed by the city. Cottonwood now operates the water service and has begun planning a new wastewater plant.

City planning officials say they have not yet seen new plans for the area.

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