I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof. In last week’s editorial I spoke about how exaggerated claims were made about Kartchner Caverns during the 1990s and how investors were tricked into buying vast amounts of real estate in anticipation of a boom town that never materialized. I also mentioned that the Benson City Council bought into a nearly worthless advertising scheme which was supposed to bring throngs of tourists from the caverns into downtown Benson.

Today history is repeating itself and Benson is being treated to a new boom town hoax known as the Villages of Vigneto. Vigneto is an Italian word that means “vineyard”. I think that eventually we’ll see that the grapes from this vineyard aren’t nearly as sweet as its promoters would like us to think that they are.

Let’s take a quick look at the history of this twenty square mile tract of land along Highway 90:
For many years the land on both sides of 90 and south of I-10 was owned by a giant chemical conglomerate called Tenneco. Tenneco leased most of the land out for cattle grazing. In the early 1990s Tenneco sold much of the land to a pair of Tucson real estate speculators named Neal Simonson and Ernie Graves. You may recall that in the mid 1980s Simonson tried to construct a city on the J-6 ranch. His city failed when he couldn’t get financing. After a few years Simonson and Graves split up and Graves got the Highway 90 property. He tried to develop it but failed. Three years ago there was a plan to make the giant expanse of land into a solar energy facility but that fell through. Graves would file for bankruptcy and he would end up selling the land to a Phoenix development group called El Dorado Holdings. El Dorado has several developments but if their web site is to be believed, all of their developments are in the Phoenix area and none is in rural Arizona.

Over a twenty year period El Dorado proposes to build 28,000 houses on land that presently has no population. In order for El Dorado’s grandiose plans to bear fruit several hurdles must be crossed and all are major in nature. Absolutely essential to success is finding people who will buy those 28,000 houses and live in them. El Dorado isn’t talking much about where all these people will be coming from or where the buyers will get the money to buy all those houses. Last month the local newspaper printed an article about Vigneto. On the newspaper’s web site someone made this tongue in cheek comment: (quote) “I don’t know what motivates this pie in the sky but for a development of this size there has to be a demand for housing. There is none unless wealthy Chinese are going to be moving to Cochise County in large numbers.” I couldn’t have said it better.

In the Phoenix area it does appear that no matter how much housing is constructed people will come from all over to live there. But Benson can hardly be compared with Phoenix. If El Dorado is planning to bring in massive numbers of refugees from the frozen Midwest, El Dorado may have another think coming. Vigneto is at 4,200 feet of elevation and on a winter night it can be just as cold there as it is in Nebraska. Not exactly a tropical paradise.

It’s also very important to understand that by no means is El Dorado the only developer with plans for the Benson area. For years a Tucson operation called San Pedro Partners has had permission to build nearly a thousand houses along 90 just south of the Interstate. We haven’t heard much about that lately. Also, Tucson development company Diamond Ventures owns a vast tract of land just south of the Skyline freeway interchange. Ten years ago Diamond suffered a setback but it’s a sure thing that they will be coming back for more. My point is that there is a huge surplus of vacant land in all directions from Benson. If someone had the money and was crazy enough, they could build a city the size of Los Angeles with all that vacant land. The supply of land far outstrips any demand that’s likely to materialize in the next twenty years and likely in the next fifty years. Vigneto will have plenty of competition.

Another hurdle that El Dorado must confront is the fact that their proposed development has come under the radar of some well financed environmental groups. Some are fearful that Vigneto could result in so much ground water pumping that it could endanger the San Pedro River which flows only a few miles to the east. Others are concerned that their wells could run dry. At least one environmental group concerns itself with endangered plants and animals. All it would take is someone to find an endangered purple tailed platypus on the land and Vigneto could be in court for years.

My feeling is that if El Dorado is foolish enough to toss tens of millions of dollars at a development for which there may be little demand, that would be their problem and let them spend their money. If nothing else, there would be loads of jobs created building their brand new ghost town. But there’s yet another element that needs careful examination. El Dorado wants to drag the Benson City Government in by creating at least one Community Facilities District. And that in itself opens a giant can of worms that could potentially put the city deeply in the hole. Our city council is so taken in by El Dorado that they seem ready to throw caution to the wind. Our mayor and council are playing along with El Dorado at a breakneck speed. I’ll have more to say about the Community Facilities District problem in a day or two.

I’m CAVE MANager Paul Lotsof and the opinions you’ve just heard are mine and not necessarily anyone else’s. If you’d like a copy of this editorial or you’d like to express your opinions go to the CAVE web site. We’re at CAVEFM.com. That’s CAVEFM.com.