The Oro Valley Town Council has voted in favor of maintaining two of the town’s out-of-commission golf courses at their council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
The council plans to purchase the former Vistoso golf course for fair market value by April 1, 2021, and designate the property as open space, as well as initiate discussions with interested parties on ways to recommission the Pusch Ridge nine-hole course in the near future.
“I think it’s been very evident by the community that there’s a significant interest in contributing towards the purchase and maintenance of this property going into the future,” Mayor Joe Winfield said about the potential Vistoso purchase during Wednesday’s meeting.
Winfield said the town plans to hire an appraiser to determine the Vistoso property’s fair market value and direct Town Manager Mary Jacobs and Town Attorney Gary Cohen to negotiate with the property owner: Romspen Vistoso LLC, a Canadian non-bank mortgage lender.
Before the vote, Council Member Steve Solomon questioned what the town’s monthly cost to maintain the property would be, should Romspen agree to sell. Winfield said he discovered Oro Valley is eligible for grants to help offset the cost of maintaining the property after speaking with officials from Arizona State Parks and Trails.
“There’s also significant grants from the Water Conservation Fund that the town can apply for and would most likely pay dollar to dollar,” Winfield said. “So, if we contributed a million and a half, the Water Conservation Fund would contribute a million and a half.”
Council Member Dr. Harry ‘Mo’ Greene also questioned why the town was setting a five-month timeline to complete the potential land purchase, instead of trying to expedite the process.
“Why April? We’ve heard from these folks during the [public hearing] they’re on pins and needles. It seems to me if we could resolve it by February it would be certainly advantageous,” Greene said. “The longer we drag it out, the more miserable it is for the people who are living there.”
Winfield said the April 1 deadline would give town staff enough time to get an appraisal of the property, negotiate a deal and (hopefully) complete the transaction as the holiday season approaches and a global pandemic rages on.
“An appraisal is needed and that process takes time, about 30 to 60 days,” Winfield said. “I was thinking of staff and giving a reasonable timeframe. This gives it a hard date and we’re talking months, not years.”
The fate of the Vistoso property has been hanging in the balance after the golf course closed in 2018 and was subsequently purchased by Romspen. The mortgage lender originally planned to build a senior care facility and residential housing on the property, but outcry from surrounding homeowners associations put those plans on hold.
Romspen recently declined a fair market value offer from national environmental nonprofit organization, The Conservation Fund, who wanted to repurpose the course for recreational use. Romspen attorney Pat Lopez said the nonprofit’s offer was declined because neither party could agree on the property’s fair market value, despite the Conservation Fund paying for and submitting a professional appraisal to Romspen. The details of the appraisal are sealed due to a nondisclosure agreement between the nonprofit and Romspen.
Should Rompsen not accept Oro Valley’s offer, the town could try to claim the property through a condemnation process under eminent domain, with a fair market value ultimately determined by a jury. The process normally lasts about one to two years during normal times but would take even longer during the pandemic, according to Town Attorney Gary Cohen.
Later in Wednesday’s meeting, the council voted 6-1 to initiate discussions with HSL Properties and area HOA’s to decide a future plan to operate and maintain the Pusch Ridge nine hole course.
Council Member Tim Bohen voted against the motion.
Recently, HSL announced they may not operate the property as a golf course should they choose to exercise their lease option by January 31. The property management group entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Oro Valley last February to reopen and operate the nine hole course, which is located near El Conquistador Resort that HSL owns. However, HSL recently chose to back out of the deal due to financial uncertainty created by COVID-19.
Solomon said he was concerned by HSL’s announcement because it was assumed the property manager would continue golf operations when discussed in previous negotiations.
“Throughout the entire process, we never discussed closing the course down and abandoning golf on that course,” Solomon said. “We had always discussed the fact that the town would effectively let HSL assume operation of it as a golf course. That was on track until COVID hit.”
Solomon said he sympathises with HSL’s financial concerns during the pandemic, but an alternate plan to use the property in any other way than a golf course was not discussed and should not be entertained.
“It came as a shock to a lot of the golf community and the surrounding HOAs that all of the sudden it might not be a golf course because HSL is not in a financial position to operate it,” Solomon said. “We’ve never really discussed the future of the Pusch Ridge nine-hole course other than HSL will take it over, along with the homeowners and operate it as this special golf course.”
Greene also said he wants to see Pusch Ridge nine hole course restored to its former glory, rather than seeing it converted to other uses by HSL. He warned that the course is headed down the same path as Vistoso if the council fails to take action.
“I think we’ve seen this movie before. I’ve lived here long enough to watch Vistoso gradually deteriorate with very little owner participation. For every year a golf course is fallow, it takes two to three years to bring it back,” Greene said. “I think we should do what we can as a council to bridge over the COVID period and try to keep it up to the level it can be a golf course. It’s an absolute gem. It’s a beautiful piece of property and it’s an asset to us as Oro Valley residents.”