Joe Winfield, Mayor of Oro Valley
Feb 23, 2022
Read the full article at TucsonLocalMedia.com
We hear it time and time again: when it comes to government, the biggest impacts can be made at the local level. As your mayor, I’ve had a front row seat to the positive impact Oro Valley residents have had on this community through their time, energy and generosity. Most recently—just last week, in fact—we saw the culmination of a three-and-a-half-year effort to successfully preserve the former Vistoso Golf Course as a wildlife corridor, open space and future passive recreation area in perpetuity. That collaborative effort is a story worth telling.
For the community of Rancho Vistoso, the problem of a closed golf course was not only a threat to property values, but also a threat to quality of life. The solution to that problem was complicated, expensive and arduous. It involved multiple stakeholders and organizations. It required fundraising and negotiation. The purchase of the Vistoso property was a complex transaction that could not have been accomplished without a team approach. The successful resolution ultimately involved the Town of Oro Valley; The Conservation Fund, a national conservation nonprofit; Ross Rulney, a local developer; Rompsen Vistoso LLC, the property owners; and an enthusiastic and generous Oro Valley community.
More than a thousand residents wrote to the Town to advocate for and show support for the preservation of the property. These individuals rallied and sought creative solutions. In the end, more than 600 individuals donated more than $1.8 million to The Conservation Fund to enable the purchase of the property, many of whom don’t even reside along the golf course.
It might be easy to assume that fundraising was the most difficult part of this process, but it was the negotiation of the settlement agreement that proved to be the biggest challenge. The agreement was necessary in order to resolve potential legal disputes, and it required considerable time, dialog between parties, and some give and take. The result was The Conservation Fund’s purchase of 202 acres of golf course parcels, and developer Ross Rulney’s purchase of the 6.3 acre former clubhouse parcel, the latter of which can be used for a future multi-family residential complex of up to 132 units and a maximum of two stories. The Town issued a press release on Feb. 17 with highlights of that agreement as well as a link to the actual document. You can find it at orovalleyaz.gov.
The 202 acres of former golf course parcels comprise the land that will be utilized for passive recreational activities like hiking, biking and birding. This land meanders through 17 neighborhoods, and in addition to being within walking distance for hundreds of nearby residents, the entire community will have access to this new park. The Vistoso property has a high conservation value, with rock formations bearing Native American petroglyphs and a variety of desert birds and animals that have made their homes here. In fact, the property is registered with the Arizona State Museum for its archeological and historical value as it was once part of Sleeping Snake Village, a former Hohokam habitation area.
This is truly a time for celebration.
It is well known that this community places a high value on natural beauty and open space. In fact, the feedback we received as part of the 2021 Parks and Recreation Master Plan indicated that trails and open space were among the highest priorities of our residents. Acquisition of the Vistoso property means we are adding 202 acres to that portfolio of open space and six miles of trails to enhance our existing trail system.
So what happens next? The first step is some initial clean-up and safety repairs, which will occur over the next 18 months. The Conservation Fund will maintain ownership of the 202 acres until sometime this summer so the Town can plan for and budget funds for safety improvements. The Conservation Fund is already reaching out to contractors to put plans in place for an initial vegetation cut-back. When the Town of Oro Valley officially takes ownership, we will build upon the work begun by The Conservation Fund and community partners. Our priority is the reopening of restrooms and safety improvements on the former golf cart paths. Eventually, the Town intends to develop a master plan for the property with input from the community. We expect the plan to include public parking and access so everyone is able to enjoy this new amenity. There will also be opportunities to volunteer through the Town’s Adopt-A-Programs.
We’ve all been reminded of the virtue of patience during this lengthy and complicated process, myself included. In fact, The Conservation Fund, which has negotiated many of these transactions before, noted that this was the most complex transaction they’d ever encountered. The level of diligence and tenacity required to orchestrate a successful outcome was remarkable. In particular, I would like to recognize Town Manager Mary Jacobs and Town Attorney Jonathan Rothschild for their roles in the negotiation process. The Conservation Fund, led by Mike Ford, also provided their expertise toward this effort for more than 22 months, securing multiple appraisals and performing all other necessary due diligence.
I am grateful we finally reached an agreement that brings this vision to fruition. Thank you to all parties involved. I am particularly proud of the fact that our residents played such a vital role, and I offer a heart-felt thank you for your patience, determination and commitment. You have helped preserve this beautiful open space in our community for generations to come.