Santa Teresa’s massive development aims to fill the workforce housing shortage

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the Border Industrial Association in Santa Teresa.

Santa Teresa, a logistics hub on the western edge of El Paso, is finally getting its long-awaited major housing development.

It will be built on land that years ago would have been part of prominent El Paso businessman William “Bill” Sanders’ plans for a city-sized housing project in the New Mexico desert.

Sanders (the father-in-law of former U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke) and his former company, Verde Realty, dropped the ambitious 20,000-acre, 25,000-home project about fifteen years ago and sold the land holdings. So far, no one has moved to build homes on the vacant land.

Alta Mesa Estates, a 1,180-acre master-planned community, will see approximately 3,400 single-family homes, 1,077 apartments and approximately 130 acres of commercial development over the next twelve years or more, according to information provided to Dona Ana. County officials.

Terry McLachlan, 64, a real estate investor and developer based in the Dallas area, is the person behind the project. He maintains his New Zealand accent even though he has lived in the United States for more than thirty years.

Three years ago, McLachlan and his partner began purchasing 1,117 acres of the Alta Mesa land from El Paso businessman Lane Gaddy, who operates the family business W. Silver Recycling. They also purchased other acreage from another landowner for the project.

“We’ve identified this area as kind of the center of the logistics universe,” McLachlan said recently during an interview about the desert land near the intersection of Strauss Road and Pete Domenici Highway, which connects to Artcraft Road in El Paso. The country is close to Santa Teresa’s four industrial parks and Mexico’s international port of entry.

El Paso’s Hunt is looking at a possible joint venture

El Paso-based Hunt Communities, a major developer of planned communities in El Paso and other parts of the country, has signed a letter of intent with McLachlan’s company, operating as Alta Mesa Estates LLC, to establish a joint venture for the project.

Hunt’s major housing projects in El Paso are Cimarron on the far west side, and Mission Ridge, in far eastern El Paso County.

Hunt Communities is part of Hunt Companies, the national real estate development group led by renowned El Paso businessman Woody Hunt.

“We went to them. We were looking for a strong partner who had a lot of experience in these types of developments to help accelerate this site,” said McLachlan. “It’s a big project.”

His investment partner is Lola Young, a Florida-based real estate investor and home healthcare entrepreneur. His son, Devon McLachlan, 31, who recently joined his father’s company, is also working on the project.

Horizon City land attracted developer

McLachlan came to the area in 2009 when he started buying desert land in the Horizon City area in far eastern El Paso County.

He and his partner, Young, own about 7,500 acres in the Horizon City area, with just over half of the land consisting of about 15,000 small, non-contiguous desert lots, known as ghost lots, he said. Thousands of people around the world bought the lots decades ago from a now-defunct company that marketed Horizon City as a future modernist city and retirement community.

With much of that acreage in the Horizon City area not yet developable, McLachlan looked for other land and discovered the Santa Teresa property.

“We buy and sell land. We have made land available to many other builders and developers. We call it land banking,” McLachlan said.

“We’re getting a little older and a little more successful, and it’s time to put some of that money into (our own) housing development.”

More workforce housing is needed, officials say

McLachlan and Young also own a 272-acre parcel of land across the highway from the Alta Mesa property, where they plan to build an industrial park.

“We have prioritized this (residential) development over the more obvious industrial development” to help solve the area’s housing problem, he said.

New homes are being built in Sunland Park, New Mexico, adjacent to the Santa Teresa area, and in El Paso, but having homes within sight of Santa Teresa’s four industrial parks will increase business recruitment, according to Jerry Pacheco and Davin Lopez, chief economic officer. development organizations in New Mexico.

“The first question we get now is where the labor is going to come from. And if you have a (housing) project that you can point to, then it becomes a lot easier to convince the company that the labor is good.” to get out of here,” said Pacheco, longtime president of the Border Industrial Association, which focused on attracting businesses to Santa Teresa’s industrial parks.

Some large companies did not locate in Santa Teresa because of concerns about where the workforce would come from, Pacheco said.

More than 4,400 people work on industrial estates

Santa Teresa’s four industrial parks have approximately 80 companies with more than 4,400 employees.

The massive Union Pacific Railroad intermodal hub, Dona Ana County-operated jet airport and Santa Teresa International Access Port are located near the industrial parks.

Lopez, CEO of the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance in Las Cruces, said Santa Teresa has done a good job of attracting manufacturing and distribution companies over the past two decades. But the growing question is where people live so they can access the jobs, he said.

If the Verde Realty development had occurred years ago, it would have accelerated economic development in the area, he said.

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Nearshoring of production gives a boost

El Paso businessman Bill Hagan, a partner in LBG Properties, which is developing the 580-acre, 2,384-home Rancho Santa Teresa community along Sunland Park’s McNutt Road, a few miles from the Alta Mesa site, said the housing developments in Dona Ana Rise County because land in West El Paso is scarce and expensive and Santa Teresa’s industrial parks have many workers.

“We felt like the closer people could be to their source of work, the better it would be for everyone.”

Industrial development in Santa Teresa and across the border in Mexico is being fueled by the increase in industrial nearshoring, Hagan said, echoing the views of McLachlan, Santa Teresa economic developers and others.

In so-called nearshoring, companies move factories and other factories from Asia and elsewhere to Mexico and other North American locations to be closer to customers. It’s also fueling a boom in warehousing and distribution throughout the El Paso area.

Special tax district key for Alta Mesa

Pacheco and Lopez were among many area business leaders who urged the Dona Ana County Board of County Commissioners to approve the creation of a Public Improvement District, or PID, for Alta Mesa Estates. In a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved the PID at the April 23 meeting.

The private district will collect a special annual tax from homeowners in Alta Mesa to help pay for some of the estimated $160 million cost of building infrastructure, including streets, water lines, parks and trails.

The entire project, including housing, will likely cost more than $1 billion, McLachlan said.

More: Homes worth $300,000 sit vacant due to developer issues in El Paso Upper Valley subdivision

Alta Mesa would have been financially infeasible without the PID, he said. The special tax revenue allows home lots to be sold at prices so homebuilders can build cheaper homes, he said.

Homebuilders hope to sell homes starting from $275,000 to $300,000 in the first phase, he said.

Six companies have committed to building homes in the first two phases, which will have about 530 homes: Las Cruces homebuilders KT Homes and French Brothers and El Paso homebuilders Tropicana, CareFree, BIC, and Desert View, part of View Homes.

Alta Mesa will have a 32-acre plaza

Groundwork on the first phase of Alta Mesa, with 232 homes, could possibly begin in July. The first homes could potentially be built in spring 2026, McLachlan said. About 100 apartments are also planned for the first phase.

About $35 million worth of amenities will be part of the development, including trails, parks, sports fields, three pool centers and about 25 acres of open space, McLachlan said.

The centerpiece of the development, a 32-acre plaza with restaurants, office spaces and other amenities, won’t come until the seventh phase of the 10-phase development.

The entire development is expected to be completed by 2036.

Vic Kolenc can be reached at 915-546-6421; [email protected]; @vickolenc on Twitternow known as X.

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