ince the Rancho Vistoso golf course closed down in 2018, the nearby residents have longed for a solution that would transform the property into something everyone in the community could enjoy.
A group of about 1,200 residents formed a nonprofit called Preserve Vistoso to advocate for protecting the 202 acres, which features pristine Sonoran Desert land, and turning it into a nature preserve and community hiking trail.
These dreams were threatened when Romspen Vistoso, LLC, the owner of the property, submitted a pre-application to the Town of Oro Valley in April detailing plans to develop 87 acres of the golf course into single-family houses, casitas and a potential senior care facility with assisted and independent living accomodations.
Romspen asked the town for an amendment to the General Plan and the Rancho Vistoso Planned Area Development in order to change the zoning of the land from golf/recreation to medium density residential, and in some places, high-density residential. Their proposal would preserve 115 acres of the golf course as open space.
Preserve Vistoso is adamantly opposed to Romspen’s plans for redevelopment because of how it would impact the surrounding homes. They believe a senior care facility would bring constant delivery trucks, ambulances, increased traffic and other disturbances to their neighborhood.
The residents took action and contacted the Conservation Fund, a nationwide environmental nonprofit that acquires land with high conservation value and ensures it becomes public open space.
When representatives from the Conservation Fund expressed interest in helping the residents meet their goal, it was time to bring a formal proposal to the town council: The Conservation Fund will use their large revolving fund to purchase the Vistoso course from Romspen with cash at fair market value. Then, they will hold the property for up to two years while they work with the community and stakeholders to identify funds, including grants and private money, to purchase the property. The property will then be gifted to a public agency (which may or may not be the Town of Oro Valley) who will guarantee that the land is conserved as open space in perpetuity.
Mayor Joe Winfield and council member Melanie Barrett listened to the group’s proposal and brought it to the rest of the council for consideration. Barrett believes their plan has “merit” and said Oro Valley is lucky that the Conservation Fund is interested in buying the Vistoso property, because they don’t typically purchase golf courses.
Since 1985, The Conservation Fund has helped save more than 8 million acres of high quality land valued at over $6.3 billion thanks to their revolving fund. They see their role as bridging the gap between a landowner’s timetable to sell and available funding from the community.
Barrett and Winfield assured the other council members that this is just the first step in getting the conversations started. The town currently has no commitment to do anything with the Vistoso course.
Romspen’s proposal for redevelopment is still being processed by the town, as required by state law, but council member Steve Solomon said they would be receptive to a proposal from the Conservation Fund.
Solomon said he was very excited about this proposal. He believes that this opportunity to have a third party fund the purchase is important because Oro Valley is usually denied grants for these types of purposes, considering the town’s high median income and budget surpluses.
Councilmembers Bill Rodman and Rhonda Piña were concerned about the amount of time that these negotiations would take. They feared that negotiations would wander on, leaving the citizens and Preserve Vistoso uncertain in the meantime.
“I don't believe we’re talking months and months, I think this will happen relatively quickly,” Winfield responded.
Rodman asked what will happen if they cannot come up with the funding in two years. Winfield said the Conservation Fund wouldn’t even be considering this property if there wasn’t a likelihood that they would be paid back within two years.
All seven council members voted in favor of having Town Manager Mary Jacobs begin discussions with the Conservation Fund for purchasing the Vistoso golf course.