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Future of Rancho Vistoso golf course in limbo after development plans pulled
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Future of Rancho Vistoso golf course in limbo after development plans pulled

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An April photo shows the vacated Golf Club at Vistoso in Oro Valley. The future of the 208-acre course is up in the air.

The future of the Rancho Vistoso golf course in Oro Valley will remain in limbo for at least this year after the company that owns it pulled the plug on proposed development plans.

Earlier this year, Romspen Vistoso LLC, the Canada-based investment firm that owns the property, had proposed a general plan amendment and rezoning to develop parts of the 208-acre course, a prospect that has received significant pushback from nearby residents who want to preserve the property as open space.

In order to quell some of those concerns, the Oro Valley Town Council in June directed the town manager to have Romspen partner with The Conservation Fund, a national environmental nonprofit, to oversee ways to preserve the property.

But with a state deadline to review the application approaching by the end of this year, Romspen opted to end this year’s review cycle and reapply next year, officials said.

“We don’t want to force things,” said Pat Lopez, a Romspen attorney. “We would rather take the time to make sure that we’re working through the process right and working with everybody.”

The decision to pull the application was made days before a town council meeting last Wednesday, where some residents reiterated long-standing complaints about the potential development of the vacant course.

Town officials have received over 1,200 formal comments on the matter. The neighboring community wants the area to remain natural open space, and have implored town officials to deny Romspen’s future attempts and put a stop to nearly three years of uncertainty.

“We hope that the town of Oro Valley will reject their rezoning plans, as they should, because they’re unrealistic in a community like ours,” said Patricia Sturmon, a board member with Preserve Vistoso, a local nonprofit group focused on ensuring the community has a say in what happens to the golf club. “They wanted to cram hundreds of homes and condos in the middle of fairways and other areas that are surrounded by houses.”

Lopez said Romspen wants to work with the town, neighbors and community to find solutions that are a win for everyone.

“(The community’s) opinions do have weight,” he said. “Romspen has adjusted and will continue to adjust its plans based on that input.”

Preserve Vistoso was part of a group that raised over $1.5 million in donations and pledges to help fund the acquisition of the property by The Conservation Fund, which has led conservation efforts for over 1 million acres of land in Arizona.

Representatives from The Conservation Fund said the property is unique from a conservation standpoint because it includes a scenic desert setting, convenient public access, six miles of concrete trails, local flora and fauna, petroglyphs and wildlife.

“It’s a testimony to the community and their passion and vision. ... They’re organized, they’re standing together in a way that you don’t often see,” said Mike Ford, Nevada and Southwest Director at The Conservation Fund. “So, it appealed to me personally, and it certainly appealed to me professionally in terms of the work that The Conservation Fund does.”

Ultimately, Romspen and The Conservation Fund were unable to come to an agreement, though both said they “remain open” to future possibilities.

“Both parties have to agree it’s fair and reasonable,” Lopez said. “They just couldn’t reach an agreement on it.”

Ford said the proposed purchase price was determined by a fair market value based on a third-party appraiser.

“We’re terribly disappointed that it didn’t work out,” Ford said. “But I never give up on these things. … We’re going to leave the door open and hopefully something will happen.”

Regardless, Sturmon said Preserve Vistoso’s 1,300 members will “come back stronger” and continue to oppose Romspen should they reapply with development plans for the property next year.

“We’re all disappointed, but we have not given up hope,” Sturmon said. “We are in this for the long haul, and we are determined to preserve this area.”

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Mandy Loader is a journalism graduate student at the University of Arizona who is currently an apprentice for the Arizona Daily Star.

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For Star subscribers: An abandoned golf course could soon find new life as a nature preserve, with impressive views of the Catalina Mountains, “phenomenal native vegetation,” petroglyphs, walking trails and wildlife. First, though, community conservationists must raise $1.8 million in two months to buy it. 

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