Arizona-based real estate firm Suncrest entered the Charlotte market in 2019 looking to establish a foothold with its master-planned residential and mixed-use communities. In the years since, the company hired a director of land development in the Carolinas and is looking to continue expanding throughout the region.

Mark McAuley joined Suncrest last year after previously spending 15 years with ColeJenest & Stone. He is leading an ambitious plan for Suncrest, which has acquired around 1,200 acres in the region and entitled about 3,000 residential lots since 2019. McAuley and his team are working on getting approvals for an additional 2,000 home lots across several projects at various stages of the planning process.

Suncrest’s portfolio includes master-planned projects such as Nolen Farm in Gastonia, Sugar Creek in Indian Land and Bakers Creek in Kannapolis. It is also working to add multiple large projects elsewhere in Gaston County. Suncrest is behind the Zora build-to-rent product line as well, which includes a project near University City with 108 homes. McAuley said his team is evaluating options throughout the region for future projects, including in counties surrounding Mecklenburg.

Suncrest works with homebuilders to develop its land holdings. It has worked with companies like D.R. Horton Inc., Lennar Corp., Meritage Homes Corp. and Taylor Morrison up to this point. For several of its projects, multiple builders are involved and developing different product types.

“We really have a big emphasis on amenitizing communities and creating a community with a wide range of amenities,” McAuley said. “(Homebuilders have) been really eager and aggressive to get into our communities because we focus on well-planned communities with amenities.”

McAuley spoke with the Charlotte Business Journal about Suncrest’s portfolio in the region and its plans for more growth. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How has your vision for the Charlotte market evolved since entering here in 2019? How has the market stacked up to your expectations?

I think it has been in line with what we’ve expected. We’ve been able to be a little more aggressive because we’ve developed a lot more relationships with the builders here. I think we’ve been able to prove on these projects like Nolen Farm and Sugar Creek, which is … under construction, that we can deliver on what we’ve set out to do as far as some of these large, residential, master-planned communities. I think we’ve even gotten more aggressive in being able to find the right projects in the right locations. Because of our relationships we’ve developed with these builders — local, regional and national builders — we’ve been even more aggressive.

Every site now has its challenges, between infrastructure, entitlement, timelines and zoning. I think we’re willing to take on some of those challenges that some others aren’t. Since we entered the market, I’d say we’re going after more and more things here in Charlotte. It has probably exceeded our expectations.

You mentioned some of the markets you’ve been successful in so far, like Gaston County. Are there any other areas in the region you are particularly intrigued by? And what are you looking for in these areas when deciding where to invest?

We love the Gaston County area. We see that area continuing to grow, and I think they’ve been good partners in working through some of these projects and opening where they see development happening. We’ve looked at other submarkets. We have a project in Kannapolis. We like that area as well. We’re looking at a couple of other things, but obviously, there is a little bit of a challenge with sewer capacity and things like that. We like these other areas. We’ve looked at things even further out in Troutman and Hickory. We don’t have anything going there yet, but we see a lot of growth that way. Lincoln County as well. Union as well. Sewer has still been a bit of challenge in Union County at the moment. Lancaster, we’ve done work there and we continue to look at sites there that seem to make sense to us. 

I think those surrounding counties, we’re always looking for projects that make sense and, even if there are some infrastructure challenges, we’re willing to work through those.

What about the Suncrest model fits this area well?

For us, as a master-planned developer, it’s working with our builders on what they see as far as the amenities, which are the big thing for us. And how quickly can we develop lots. For us, the model that has helped a lot is having early conversations with builders that we think may fit into a certain site. What does (the builder) envision here?

Those are always changing. Every project now has an Olympic-sized pool, a 4,000- to 5,000-square-foot clubhouse, multiple playgrounds and parks and pickleball courts. And a lot of them also have a mixed-use component, where you’re really creating a community that is going to be desirable for a variety of people from young professionals all the way up to their grandparents, all moving into the same community and having that desirable proximity to shopping and entertainment. That has been really important for us, meeting with builders early on to ask what they see for projects. 

And with local stakeholders, having their buy in. I think that has really helped us, listening to them and hearing what they envision for the community. What is the history? How can we factor in some of this history and culture into how we develop a project? I think that has been really helpful in creating a lot of successful projects for us.

Phoenix-based Suncrest, which has developed 24 master-planned communities on 4,100 acres since 2016, has entered the wildly popular build-to-rent sector.

A newly created Zora Living brand is being unveiled at its first build-to-rent community in Phoenix.

Called Zora Encanto, the $33 million development will include 109 single-family rental homes on 10 acres at the southeast corner of 83rd Avenue and Encanto Boulevard in west Phoenix.

“We’re just getting started,” said Mike Koch, managing partner who co-founded Suncrest with Sean Cooney. “We’re looking forward to growing that component of the business.”

While Suncrest has sold engineered lots to builders for two other rental communities in Buckeye and Maricopa, it has been focusing build-to-rent development in the Carolinas and Texas, Koch said.

While the company is getting into the BTR sector, 85% of its business is still in the development of master-planned communities that feature for-sale homes.

“We are in the land business,” Koch said. “Build-for-rent is another application for land. With the housing shortage across the country, there’s a need for both for-sale and for-rent. We’re trying to fill the void for both.”

Koch said he’s looking at building rental divisions with Suncrest’s existing master-planned communities in Nashville and Charlotte. He’s also planning one in Tennessee.

“We’re looking for land opportunities for master-plan opportunities in Phoenix for sure,” Koch said.

He said he’s negotiating contracts for two parcels in Phoenix that are within Loop 101. If all goes as planned, he would have two more rental communities built by the end of 2025.

Meanwhile, the Zora Encanto community is in pre-leasing, with monthly rents averaging $1,950 for one- and two-bedroom homes.

Amenities include what Koch calls a “resort-inspired pool,” a small cabana, a fitness center that includes a sliding garage door to a yoga lawn and open space for gathering areas.

Each of the homes will include 10-foot ceilings, smart home technology, stainless steel appliances, higher-end finishes, open concept kitchens with pantries and doggie doors leading to large, private turf backyards.

On average, the back yards at Zora Encanto are roughly 600 square feet, which Koch said is twice the size of other rental communities.

“Some of our biggest backyards are 1,200 to 1,500 square feet,” Koch said.

The private backyards include turf, plantings, pavers and are surrounded by white vinyl privacy fencing.

“Phoenix is ground zero for standalone rental communities,” Koch said. “We learned from the best — Christopher Todd Communities and NextMetro. There are a lot of good groups doing a lot of good things. We focused on land closer in town within a mile of major transportation routes and major employment. We wanted to focus on the outdoor experience. The big backyards were something we wanted to market as a little bit different than most.”

Mike Mancini, president of Sodella Construction, is building Zora Encanto using HercuTech’s HercuWall technology.

Using HercuWall to build these homes can help residents lower their energy bills by up to 40%, Koch said.

“Our plan for all the communities we build in Phoenix is to use HercuWall,” he said.

Mecklenburg County’s most active homebuilder has secured a large swath of land for a new project in Kannapolis.

Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN) plans to build homes and townhomes on a 106-acre site that’s less than 2 miles from the N.C. Research Campus. The Kannapolis City Council approved a development agreement last year with Suncrest to allow for significant residential development there.

The site was previously owned by Arizona-based Suncrest, which acquires land and works with homebuilders to develop it. Suncrest previously secured approvals to allow for hundreds of homes and townhomes to be developed at the site, known as Bakers Creek. It is south of West 21st Street near downtown Kannapolis and is approved for 207 single-family homes and 134 townhomes.

An entity named DRP NC 4 LLC, which is affiliated with asset manager DW Partners, acquired a 99-acre site from Suncrest for over $8.6 million earlier this month, real estate records show. DW Partners is working with Lennar, Suncrest confirmed. The remaining 7 acres will be owned by a homeowner association, Suncrest added.

Suncrest has announced that model homes will be ready at the property in early 2026. Prices for the townhomes are expected to start in the low $300,000s, while the single-family homes would start in the mid-$300,000s.

“Kannapolis is a strategic market for Lennar given its commitment to growth and development of the town’s commercial core,” said Matt Pannell, Lennar vice president of land acquisition, in a news release.

Kannapolis’ downtown revitalization effort, which is centered around Atrium Health Ballpark, has drawn hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in recent years. The N.C. Research Campus is expected to get a new influx of interest as well, after Charlotte-based Insite Properties struck a deal last year to acquire Castle & Cooke’s land holdings in the city.

Pannell said the momentum in Kannapolis “will be a huge attraction to businesses and homebuyers alike.”

Lennar came in at No. 1 on the Charlotte Business Journal‘s most recent list ranking Mecklenburg County’s largest single-family homebuilders by number of permits pulled in 2022. Suncrest is active in the Charlotte region also with a significant footprint in Gaston County, among other locations here.

A mixed-use development plan that includes 346 homes and approximately 30,000 square feet of commercial space near Lebanon High School was approved Tuesday by the city council.

Blue Hickory is the name of the mixed-use development that will be developed by Suncrest. The council approved Blue Hickory unanimously on second reading. Council member Chris Crowell motioned for the approval and Joey Carmack gave a second.

The 44-acre site is approved for 29 single-family homes, 317 townhomes and the commercial space according to Suncrest, marking the latest new development in the growing Nashville suburb.

No commercial users are under contract, “but there is significant interest from all the residential builders and a couple of restaurants and coffee-type shops,” said Suncrest Managing Partner Mike Koch.

Development on the site where South Hartmann intersects with Hickory Ridge Road is expected to begin in the spring of 2024 with new homes available in early 2025, according to Suncrest.

The development will be connected by a network of multipurpose pathways and sidewalks.

Blue Hickory will be the eighth residential community planned by Suncrest in the greater Nashville area, and will be the third in Lebanon joining Woodbridge Glen, located off Hwy 109 and I-40 and Barton Village, on South Hartmann Drive just south of I-40.

Since 2017, Suncrest has acquired more than 2,000 acres of land in Middle Tennessee municipalities.

A developer that focuses on master-planned residential projects appears primed to add to its Charlotte-area portfolio.

On July 11, Kannapolis City Council approved a development agreement and sewer allocation for an entity affiliated with Suncrest Real Estate & Land. City documents show that the Arizona-based developer plans to build 329 home lots on a 106.2-acre site in Kannapolis. The project site is off West 21st Street in the Rowan County portion of Kannapolis.

The development agreement shows the project would be built out across three phases over the course of several years. The first phase would allow 100 housing units, followed by up to 125 each in the final two phases. Kannapolis, like Concord, enacted a sewer allocation policy last year to combat capacity constraints in the area. Phasing large residential projects has been discussed as a plan to alleviate sewer capacity impacts.

The approved development agreement was between the city and Baker’s Creek Development LLC, which is affiliated with Suncrest. Baker’s Creek Development appears to be a nod to the name of the project, which is near Baker’s Creek Park.

The Kannapolis project would add to Suncrest’s steadily growing portfolio in the Charlotte area.

Earlier this year, the Charlotte Business Journal reported that Suncrest was seeking approvals for a large residential project in Gaston County with nearly 900 residential units. The developer initially entered the Charlotte market in 2019 when it began working on its Nolen Farm development, which is also in Gaston County and calls for hundreds of homes.

According to its website, Suncrest’s portfolio includes projects in North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona. The developer is headquartered in Phoenix.

Hundreds of homes are expected to be built at the former Howe Dairy Road property in south Gastonia after the project won Gastonia City Council approval. Phoenix-based real estate company, Suncrest Real Estate and Land, plans to build more than 700 single-family homes and 173 townhomes on 325 acres of land off Neal Hawkins Road, near Martha Rivers Park.

City Council unanimously approved the company’s land annexation and rezoning request at a meeting earlier this month.

“The city staff and Gastonia community members have been excellent to work with in this process,” said Sean Cooney, a managing partner at Suncrest Real Estate and Land. The project, titled Howe’s Landing Residential, will also include a 7-acre pond and an amenities area with a clubhouse, pool, grills and more.

The subdivision will have one homeowner’s association for the entire development and include a trail that extends to Martha Rivers Park. “There will be a lot of fun things to do here for folks,” said Chris Todd, the senior project manager for the project’s civil engineering.

The property could have up to 877 homes including townhomes and individual single-family homes.

Townhomes could range from the $200,000 to more than $300,000 and the single-family homes could start in the $400,000 range. “There will be a lot of fun things to do here for folks,” said Chris Todd, the senior project manager for the project’s civil engineering.

Gastonia resident Jessica Underwood was disappointed City Council gave its OK.

“I think that the traffic is the biggest issue,” said Underwood. “I’m just highly disappointed in our City Council. I do feel like all they care about is bringing in tax money and not thinking about the residents that have to live close to this.” 

Underwood wishes that the developers proposed half the amount of homes that were approved.

“It’s just high density,” said Underwood. “The things that are getting approved are really hurting our county.”

The developers told City Council and community members at meetings that they will comply with any traffic study recommendations.

Gastonia City Council encouraged developers to prioritize alleviating new traffic from the development.

“This looks like one of the better projects that we’ve seen in a long time,” said City Councilman Robert Kellogg. “I think this will be a beautiful community right next to Martha Rivers Park.”

The project consists of a multiphase project with the first phase starting with more than a hundred homes. Developers expect to start construction next spring.

An Arizona-based developer is looking to bring hundreds of new homes to the buzzing area around Knightdale.

This year, Suncrest Real Estate and Land filed its latest plans for a residential development called Brio. The Phoenix-based company wants to build up to 778 homes.

The project is situated off Old Crews Road north of Knightdale on a disjointed site totaling 268 acres across two unconnected assemblages. The land is owned by a collection of LLCs and individual landowners.

Filings with the Town of Knightdale call for a mix of single-family detached homes, townhomes and age-restricted homes. Amenities appear to include ample open space with parks, gathering areas, clubhouses and sports courts. Pricing and timeline information wasn’t included in the filings available online. Suncrest did not return requests for comment.

The project has been in the works for a while, with the developer holding its pre-submittal meeting in October 2020 followed by subsequent meetings and other plans filed since then.

McAdams handled planning and engineering services.

Suncrest has developments across the country, including one in Wake Forest called Del Webb at Traditions, which has 450 homesites.

The Knightdale development adds to the rapid growth in Knightdale and eastern Wake County.

Last year, developer Signature Property Group filed plans for the Elevate Riverview, calling for 364 apartments and 30 townhomes to serve as the residential portion of a multi-phase development in Knightdale.

On the commercial side of things, Wake Stone Property Company and Williams Realty & Building Company started work on the last of six buildings at Hinton Oaks Industrial Park last fall. Plans call for 250,000 square feet of space set to deliver in the fourth quarter of 2022.

A residential developer that focuses on master-planned projects appears to be targeting a large site in Gaston County for another one.

On March 3, the Gastonia Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for annexation and assignment of zoning requests for a nearly 326-acre site on Howe Dairy Road. The request is being made by Suncrest Real Estate & Land, which is proposing a project at the site that would include up to 877 residential units, city documents state.

Arizona-based Suncrest is proposing both attached and detached homes at the site south of Gastonia. The plans call for 173 attached homes with the remaining 704 residential units being detached single-family homes, according to a planning staff report available in commission records. The city’s planning staff has recommended approval of Suncrest’s request.

Site plans indicate the project, which would be developed in multiple phases, would be called Howe’s Landing. The land currently has several owners, including Howe Farm Partners LLC, Kenneth L. Howe Sr. and Eleanor O. Howe, and Southwood Realty Co., city documents show. A transportation impact analysis for the project estimates it would be built out in 2027.

Suncrest’s land is currently under Gaston County’s jurisdiction and is zoned for single-family and multifamily residential uses. The developer’s requests seek to annex the property into the city, after which it would need to be given a zoning designation there. Suncrest is seeking a designation of “Planned Development-Revised Residential Development District” for the property.

Planning commission documents state that the requests are tentatively scheduled to go before Gastonia City Council for another public hearing on April 18.

Suncrest first entered the Charlotte market over three years ago with plans for another big project in Gaston County. That master-planned residential project, which is along Union New Hope Road in Gastonia, is now named Nolen Farm and calls for hundreds of homes to be built by both Meritage Homes Corp. and D.R. Horton Inc.

Suncrest specializes in master-planned communities, and its portfolio includes projects in North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona, according to its website.

A large mixed-use development in Lebanon that includes homes along with commercial and office space could break ground in early 2022 now that additional land has been rezoned.

The development plan for more than 350 acres calls for more than 1,850 homes, which include townhouses, flats, duplexes and single-family homes near South Hartmann Drive and south of Interstate 40, said Casey Werner, director of land development for Suncrest Real Estate & Land.

Around 335,000 square feet of commercial, office and medical office space is part of the development plan.

The first phase is targeted to start in early 2022 with townhomes and single-family homes, Werner said. Rooftops will support the commercial, Werner said.

The entire development includes land off Pinhook Road, Bartons Creek Road and South Hartmann.

The Lebanon City Council approved a preliminary plan earlier this year to build more than 600 single-family homes on about 240 of those acres. The development is named Barton Village. A separate approval process was needed to rezone 124.5 more acres of connecting property to the north.

Barton Village North was the name of the plan most recently approved by the council, which paves the way for the entire land to be developed.

Suncrest considers Barton Village one development even though the two approval processes were needed, Werner said. Suncrest plans for entire Barton Village property under the Specific Plan zoning include:

  • 492 townhome units
  • 704 flats
  • 26 duplex units
  • 632 single-family home lots
  • 77,300 square feet of commercial space
  • 33,300 square feet of office space
  • 225,000 square feet of medical office space.

A specific plan that includes a master plan for the development is also approved, Lebanon Planning Director Paul Corder said.

“Overall it’s moving in the right direction for us,” Corder said about the approval process.

Suncrest anticipates Barton Village to yield around 1,000 jobs when finished. Suncrest projects a $1.6 billion regional economic impact, Werner said.

The developer is responsible for road infrastructure and will contribute money to a city sewer expansion project, Corder said. Sewer capacity is limited in the area now, which Corder said could impact how fast the project initially develop.