The environment is a big deal to John Woolschlager. The environmental engineering professor bought a house in a northeast Mesa neighborhood in December mainly for one reason: the panoramic views of a private golf course against the backdrop of Red Mountain from his backyard.
Upset would be a good way to describe how Woolschlager felt upon hearing that the owner of the Red Mountain Ranch Country Club, near Thomas and Recker roads, has applied to rezone a 13-acre driving range.
That could mean that one day, more than 40 custom homes would replace the open space, a move that’s prompted longtime resident Cannon Randall to start an e-mail campaign in the Red Mountain Ranch community to oppose the change.
“We feel that the loss to the community of an amenity that’s been here for 25 years is unfair. If we lose this driving range, we’ll lose the views, the open space and the membership value for the golf course users,” said Randall, 62.
His online campaign against the move has thus far generated support from about 200 residences in the community of roughly 1,600 homes.
“It’s going to degrade my home’s value,” added Woolschlager.
Jeff Welker, who applied for the changes on behalf of owner Shelby Futch, said he’s had meetings with several residents and is well aware of the concerns, which he described as “typical.”
The owner’s intent, explained Welker, is to change the zoning to proactively enhance the value of the golf course. Several local golf courses are struggling financially, he noted.
“By getting this rezoning approved, it adds value to the golf course, which makes it a more desirable property for financial institutions to back,” Welker said.
Welker also pointed out that the owner had taken into account the city’s initial concerns about loss of open space if too many homes were built on the site. The owner’s revised plans submitted to the city indicate plans to build 41 luxury detached homes instead of 86 townhomes.
Plus, there are no immediate plans to dig out the driving range, Welker said.
“As far as I know, the owner intends to continue to operate it until circumstances dictate the property develops,” he said.
The rezoning application is expected to go before Mesa’s Planning and Zoning Board on September 16. Prior to that, a community meeting has been planned for this week.
To those who feel that their views are being impacted, Welker said that would not be the case.
“The views of the parts of golf course they’re adjacent to and of Red Mountain won’t be affected,” Welker said.
That doesn’t make a difference to Randall.
“This is 6.6 percent of open space in my community, and the loss of that can never be recovered,” Randall said.
Added Woolschlager, “There’s a difference between the views of Red Mountain we have right now versus partial hilltop views.”
The potential loss of a driving range has also put off many members who pay a premium for the use of the golf course.
“Every single country club has a driving range. Not having one is like having partial service for the $400 a month I pay for membership,” Roy Buthman said as he practiced on the range on a recent weekday.
“It’s terrible, it’s almost fraudulent,” said an even more agitated Duane Dietrich, a member since 1998. “I would not join a club if it didn’t have a driving range.”
Welker maintained that it’s not the owner’s intention at this point to close the driving range.
But Randall and others say they fully expect development soon.
Don Debaca, association manager at Red Mountain Ranch Homeowners Association, declined comment on the matter.
Mesa planner Jeff McVay, who also has heard concerns from residents, said there’s no official recommendation drafted yet.
However, in an e-mail, he noted that from the city’s perspective, they feel that the owner has responded well to their initial concerns with the proposal, but they will “continue to evaluate the loss of open space and the effect of that loss on the approved development master plan and the surrounding properties” before making an official recommendation to the planning board.
“The burden of proof on the owner’s part is to show that the intent of the original master plan will continue to be met,” McVay said.