| MARICOPA, Arizona
MARICOPA, Arizona The reasons behind Bristol Palin's apparent move to this quiet, tree-lined community south of Phoenix remain unclear, but her new neighbors say they are ready to roll out the welcome mat.
The 20-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin and third-place finisher on "Dancing with the Stars" quietly bought a five-bedroom, 3,900-square-foot home in the Cobblestones Farms neighborhood of Maricopa for $172,000 on December 10.
News of the purchase, which only surfaced in the last few days, triggered media speculation over why the Alaska native would relocate to the lower 48 -- including reports she planned to study journalism at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
A Palin family spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on Bristol's plans for the home, built in 2005 and featuring a three-car garage and landscaped backyard.
Arizona State, meanwhile, dismissed the college reports.
"Actually its a rumor. She's neither enrolled nor has she applied to ASU at this time," Sharon Keeler, director of media relations at the university, told Reuters.
Maricopa Vice Mayor Edward Farrell said he showed Bristol's father, Todd Palin, around town in April but could shed little light on the reasons for the home purchase.
"He never indicated anything. I got the feeling that maybe they were looking around for possibly a second home, maybe a winter home, something to get out of the winter months in Alaska, just like the snowbirds do in the Midwest," he said.
"But never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that he was looking for somewhere for his daughter," Farrell said. "When I saw that Bristol had bought, I started rehashing the visit and tour and thought, he never gave any signs of that."
'A NICE SURPRISE'
Originally a farming community about 40 minutes south of Phoenix, Maricopa was incorporated in 2003 during the housing boom. Its sprawling, planned subdivisions offered cheaper prices than the Phoenix valley, but were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.
The city noted about 45,000 residents last year, up from just over 1,000 in 2000.
Bristol's future neighbors in Cobblestone Farms, which features a small park with a little lake and date palms to frame the desert setting, were largely positive.
Local drug store pharmacist Ronny Kassees and his wife Monika live five doors up the street from Palin's new home in their own, slightly smaller house.
The couple bought five years ago near the top of the market, and said they were "way underwater" with the mortgage, in a street that has seen a wave of foreclosures and several homes stand empty.
"Their buying a house is a nice surprise, and we're kind of hoping it may turn around the economy of Maricopa and the surrounding areas," Kassees said.
"I was a little shocked at first, but if she's going to bring the property value up, that's probably my best bet. If it will stimulate the economy in Maricopa, then I am all for it," he said.
"If she wants, she can buy my house too. If she made me a fair offer, I might consider it."
Natasha Mays, a 36-year-old mother of two, lives opposite Palin's house. She first heard Palin had moved to the neighborhood when television crews pitched up on her doorstep.
"I've seen her a couple of times on episodes of 'Dancing with the Stars,' but I know that she'll like the neighborhood. It's a really great neighborhood. Hopefully they'll give her a little bit of peace and rest when she does move in, if she does," Mays said.
Meanwhile Richard Brock, 48, a property investor fixing a house up the street from Palin's that he hopes to flip, said Bristol's arrival would be good for the community.
"You may agree or disagree with her mother's politics, but I think she held up pretty well on 'Dancing with the Stars,'" I really do. I think it was tough on her. My wife was watching, and I said 'that girl's handling her business pretty well,'" Brock said.
"I'm a little more centrist, but I'm not going to put my politics on Bristol. I'm just glad she's here," he said.
(Additional reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jerry Norton)