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Golf course residents question if plans still allow golf use

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A group of homeowners along the former Rio Rancho golf course is upset, believing the developer has abandoned plans to restore the course, but the developer says that’s not true.

In January, developer Josh Skarsgard of Land Development 2 and the West Nine Neighborhood Association reached a settlement in the lawsuit the association had filed against LD2 over Skarsgard’s plan to develop homes on the section of the deteriorated golf course bordered by WNNA houses. The settlement documents show Skarsgard agreed to decrease the density of housing and provide for 65-foot setbacks between new and existing development.

Bob Walton of the North Nine Neighborhood Association said because of the settlement, Skarsgard wants to turn a portion of the course just west of the clubhouse into commercial land even though it was previously slated to be restored for golf.

The settlement documents do not include that provision.

“This agreement they’re making doesn’t affect us as far as open space, but it does kill the golf course,” Walton said.

Walton said without the land in question, the golf course wouldn’t be long enough to be considered a championship course.

Mike Vidal of The 18 homeowners association said the course would have to become a nine-hole “executive” course.

“No one’s interested in an executive course,” he said.

Vidal said the course becoming open space wouldn’t keep up property values the way a restored golf course would. Kathy Colley, president of The Islands homeowners association on the east part of the course, said her neighborhood was having property values reassessed, so changes to the golf course could affect property tax revenue for the whole county.

In an emailed statement, Skarsgard said the accusations that he’s abandoned the golf option are “entirely baseless.”

“LD2 continues its aggressive pursuit of the ‘golf option’ (which was not possible until the recent agreement was reached with the neighboring homeowners, providing for new housing construction in limited portions of the former golf course),” he wrote. “LD2 is currently gathering all the relevant information needed for credible golf course operators to perform their ‘due diligence’ (former irrigation plans, recycled water rates and volumes needed to irrigate a rehabilitated course, surveys of the property, etc.).”

He didn’t say it he would apply for a change of land-use zoning.

When the city approved Skarsgard’s request for a zone change to allow the housing development last spring, he promised to restore golf use on two-thirds of the 27-hole course if possible and turn that land into developed open space if golf wasn’t feasible.

“It’s just interesting to have someone change their mind that soon after zoning,” Colley said.

She, Vidal and Walton said they wished Skarsgard would communicate with them if he were making progress on restoring golf to the property.

Jim Bellows of Bellows Golf Management in Arizona had a letter of intent with Skarsgard for Bellows to restore 18 holes of the golf course and the clubhouse, with Skarsgard handing over ownership of 200 acres and the clubhouse for free, if that plan were found to be feasible. The letter expired at the end of 2018, so Bellows is no longer contractually involved.

“We have some questions about the way it expired early,” Bellows said, but he doesn’t plan to fight the expiration. He’s still interested in redeveloping 18 holes, and believes the community would support a quality golf course and clubhouse.

“We keep in touch with everybody up there, and we’re aware of the challenges Skarsgard has with his development,” Bellows said.

He said no other golf course developer was interested in the property, and the restoration would work only if the course length and number of holes weren’t decreased. The holes must also be contiguous, he said, rather than separated by other development.

“We still hope it’s successful — just waiting to see,” Bellows said.

Skarsgard said he was moving forward with redevelopment.

“LD2 will be presenting a master plan for this entire property in the coming weeks that will make the residents proud, and return this property to its former glory in the heart of Rio Rancho,” he said.

Skarsgard said he would soon pick a homebuilder to design and construct the houses on the West Nine, and work would start in the fall.

“LD2 is confident that these new homes will stabilize property values and blend in nicely with the existing nearby communities,” he said.

This spring, Skarsgard said, he would also start repairing the clubhouse, which has been vandalized and suffered water damage because of the vandalism.

He said he would give more information when he submitted the master plan to the city for approval.