In response to COVID-19, the Town of Oro Valley is making changes to its public meeting process. But a community organization in Rancho Vistoso believes it falls short of ensuring meaningful resident input on new development projects.

Romspen Vistoso, LLC, the owner of the now-closed Rancho Vistoso golf course property, submitted a preapplication to the town detailing plans to develop 87 of the total 202-acre golf course into single-family houses, casitas and a potential senior care facility with assisted and independent living accomodations. The town expects an official application to be submitted by the end of this month.

The town usually holds public meetings to collect feedback on a specific project before a formal application is submitted. But in an effort to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the staff decided to create an informational video that explained the draft proposal’s details. Michael Spaeth, the town’s Current Planning Principal Planner, and Linda Morales, Owner of The Planning Center (which worked on the proposal), were featured in the roughly 30-minute video posted on the town’s Youtube page.

“Community input has shaped every General Plan amendment and rezoning application in Oro Valley,” Spaeth said in the video. “Typically, an in-person neighborhood meeting is held prior to a formal submittal of a General Plan amendment and/or rezoning application. However, the Zoning Code enables the Planning and Zoning Administrator to approve alternative methods of public outreach when warranted.” Romspen is asking for an amendment to the town’s General Plan and an amendment to 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. In the video, Morales said Romspen had been making improvements to the golf course since 2014 in an effort

to make it a viable business. Eventually, the losses piled up and without financial support from the community the course closed for good four years later.

She said Rompsen understands how a closed golf course affects homeowners by lowering property values and causing uncertainty in the local real estate market. They believe a “carefully planned” development along with a new linear trail for the community is a win-win solution.

Preserve Vistoso, a group of 1,200 residents in the Rancho Vistoso area, have organized to voice their concerns with the town government over this development. They believe the Town of Oro Valley should put a moratorium on General Plan amendments until public meetings are possible and residents can “effectively voice their opinions,” according to their website.

“I don’t live on the golf course, I live near the golf course, but this is an entire neighborhood issue,” said Preserve Vistoso member Pat Sturmon. “This isn’t just about the people that live on the golf course, this is also about saving the community from additional housing and a senior citizen [facility] when in fact we hope that we could turn the area into a community trail and nature preserve.”

The group is opposing the plans to build a senior care facility on a driving range because of how it will impact the surrounding homes. Sturmon said such a facility would bring constant delivery trucks, ambulances, increased traffic and other disturbances to their neighborhood. “If you look at most of the senior [facilities] in Oro Valley, they’re on major roads like Splendido and some of the

others,” Sturmon said. “But this is in the middle of a community, it would add to the congestion and two-story buildings, it’s not exactly what we think would be appropriate for the area.”

The town council is required by state law to consider any development proposal in the same year it was submitted, according to Spaeth. In order to keep the process on track, staff has provided a schedule for future public meetings pertaining to the Vistoso development. Since public gatherings aren’t possible right now, concerned citizens are encouraged to watch the informational video provided by the town and submit any questions or comments by email at ask@orovalleyaz.gov or by phone at 520-229-4711. All remarks submitted by April 23 will be addressed in a follow-up video set for April 30. After that, the town expects a formal application from Romspen.

The town will host a web-based, fully interactive Zoom meeting on May 14 for anyone to watch and participate in virtual discussions. Smaller focus group meetings will also be hosted via Zoom in June and July. From there, the town hopes to host their first in-person meeting about this development in August, if it is safe to do so. Another is scheduled for September. Two Planning and Zoning Commission hearings are set for October and November, and the town council is expected to consider the rezoning in December. “Although it is an unprecedented way of moving forward, we’re happy that the town is working with the business community and the public to keep this process moving while still respecting and allowing the public involvement process in a new way,” Morales said.

Sturmon said her group understands the “difficult situation” the town is in, but they don’t believe virtual meetings will make up for a traditional in-person discussion. “We’re glad that they’re providing that alternative, it’s just sad that we couldn’t have the input up front so that the town and everyone else would know what our concerns are as they start to work through with the applicant

what the plan is going to be,” Sturmon said. “We think front-end, in-person comments would add to the process, rather than wait until later in the process to have in-person meetings.”

Preserve Vistoso is encouraging all of their members to send emails with questions and comments to the town government. Sturmon said they want the town to know that the Vistoso community is committed to being engaged with the process and supporting their goal of establishing a nature preserve and community trail. “Most of the town’s parks and recreational areas are in the central part of the town,” she said. “We are lacking in facilities up here in Rancho Vistoso and this area would make a perfect recreational area.”