Monday, March 20, 2023

Council Guides Staff on Vistoso Trails Nature Preserve Master Plan: "Keep It Simple... Revegetation Is The Priority"

The Oro Valley Town Council provided direction last Wednesday regarding the Vistoso Trails Nature Preserve Master Plan.  The direction was provided during a study session with town staff and with consultant to the project. 

Keep it simple
The council wants the Preserve to be a place for relaxation, nature, and reasonable exercise. They don't want it to be a park that attracts a large volume of traffic. The council agreed that they need to know the traffic impact of each option in order to provide further guidance.

Get revegetation started sooner rather than later
The most important aspect of creating the Preserve is to return the greens and fairways to their natural state. This means planting native plants and eliminating the invasive species that are taking over the area. This is called "revegetation." Removing as much of the Bermuda grass as possible is a challenge as that grass is much like a weed. It's hard to kill. The longer the town waits to revegetate, the more difficult and the more costly it will be to do so. The proposed plan is to rip out the greens and fairways and to apply a seed mix of grass and straw. Revegetation is part of Phases 1 and 2 of the consultant's implementation plan.

Do something about the pond
...but don't make it too complicated. The simplest alternative seems to be what the consultant noted as Option C (see panel right). This is a smaller pond with sloped sides to allow leisurely access. The pond would use reclaimed water. 

Note: There is a simpler option that neither the consultant, town staff, nor the council discussed. That option is to fill in the area and revegetate it. That would return that area to its natural state.

Get a handle on cost of creating and maintaining the Preserve
Council wants to know the cost of building and of maintaining all options so that they can make an informed decision. "We need some reasonable estimates for the construction and maintenance," noted Council Member Solomon. "Is this going to be something that is going to start taking a big percentage of the Parks and Recreation budget?" Parks and Recreation Director Diaz-Trahan replied that it would be less costly than maintaining similar acreage at Naranja Park. Regarding cost of implementing, staff consistently mentioned getting grants but has provided no details.

Allow both walking and biking
The cart paths on the Preserve are not sufficiently wide for both foot and bike traffic. Also, they are not wide enough to meet ADA compliance. Town staff does not think it can enforce a "no bike" policy. Most on Council don't want to keep bikers out anyway. Some path widening will need to occur in the future. In addition, the town will need to add special ADA paths to allow all to enjoy the Preserve experience.

Involve the entire community
Residents of Rancho Vistoso donated $1.8million to The Conservation Fund for the purchase of the property. Some council members suggested that the opinion of these people should be weighed more heavily that the opinion of those who live outside the area. Mayor Winfield did not agree. He expressed the view of a majority: The investment that the town will make in this property will vastly exceed the amount contributed. Therefore, the town should weigh the thoughts of all residents equally. Diaz-Trahan noted that most resident input has come from those who do live in the area.

Diaz-Trahan: All plans  have been vetted with the easement holder, The Conservation Fund
The Conservation Fund holds the conservation easement on the property. The easement limits defines the activities the town can allow on the property and what it can do with it. Diaz-Trahan presented this to the Council. She stated that she has vetted all pieces of the Master Plan with The Conservation Fund.

There are three key areas of conservation easement requirements:
  • Preserving land for outdoor recreation by or for the the education of the general public
  • Protecting a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife plants, and ecosystem, and 
  • Preserving open space for the scenic enjoyment of the general public 
Permitted uses of the property are:
  • Low impact recreation activities that include but are not limited to:
    Walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, birdwatching, stargazing, archaeological efforts, education programs, nature photography, picnicking, and on-leash dog walking
  • Construction of:
    Ramada’s, benches, picnic tables, water stations, bird blinds, exercise stations, ADA and non ADA trails and paths, and additional restrooms and parking areas that provide access to the area 
Remember: This is a Master Plan that will take many years to implement. The plan will be subject to review and funding by future councils as it becomes part of future annual budgets
The consultant has recommended four phases of the project. They did not define the timetable of each. Our guess is that it will be a decade before the master plan would be implemented completely. That time frame would span the terms of several Councils. No council is obligated to implement the plans of a prior council. Annually, the Council will decide if it want to do what is being suggested at that time in the Master Plan and if they want to fund it.  In essence, then, the Master Plan is guideline that may well change over time.  

Creating the Preserve is a long-term game
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