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.