Monday, June 26, 2000

Western Row's rezoning debated

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — It's been nearly 20 years, but John Berry remembers his first, and only, hole-in-one at Western Row Golf Course as if it were yesterday.

        “I was on the 14th hole, which was a 200-yard, par 3,” he said. “The wind was blowing, and I hit a 4 iron.

        “The ball took off, landed at the front of the green, rolled around and then bloop! It went in. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

        Like Mr. Berry, hundreds of golfers share fond memories of playing at the popular and affordable 18-hole golf course. Soon, memories are all many of them will have left.

        Western Row Golf Course, on Mason-Montgomery Road for 38 years, has been put up for sale by owner John Zopff.

        Tonight,Midland Atlantic Properties of Cincinnati presents its plan for rezoning the 141 acres to Mason City Council.

        Its proposal — a subject of dispute among neighboring property owners — calls for 130 houses, an office park and a commercial shopping center to include a Kroger store.

        A large number of residents are expected to attend and oppose the rezoning.

        Critics point to traffic congestion and other “nuisance features of retail” such as lights, signs, noise and trash. Many say the 100,000 square feet of retail space is inconsistent with Mason's comprehensive plan.

        Many residents would like to see the land stay green, but Mr. Zopff says that may not be feasible.

        “The land is much more valuable if it is subdivided into houses rather than used to play golf,” Mr. Zopff said.

        He has been trying to sell his family-run golf course for several years.

        The 72-year-old businessman and lawyer recently toldthe Enquirer that maintaining the course has become a nightmare because of poor drainage and an antiquated watering system.

        Replacing Western Row's rusting labyrinth of leaky pipes could cost nearly 10 times what it took to get the course started in 1962.

        “To fix just that problem is probably $500,000,” Mr. Zopff said. “It's time to give it up and move on to other things. I have a family to think about.”

        Located on the thriving Mason-Montgomery Road corridor, the golf course is one of the most sought after parcels in Mason — and quite possibly Warren County.

        Midland, the first developer to show serious interest, offered nearly $10 million.

        However, difficulties obtaining required zoning and a legal dispute over purchasing rights threaten to nix that deal, leaving many in this city of 18,850 wondering what will become of Western Row.

        Speculation began to swirl last week that Ohio's 12th District Court of Appeals, in downtown Middletown, may move to Western Row in its search for more space.

        There even has been talk of Deerfield Township trustees buying the property and maintaining it as a golf course.

        “I really think that's a long shot,” said Dan Theno, Deerfield's administrator of development and community relations. ""We have so many other higher priorities. I'm not rejecting the idea entirely, but the chances of Deerfield actually buying that land are miniscule.”

        Some in Mason say City Council should turn Western Row into a municipal golf course, but council members say the city doesn't have $10 million to buy the land.

        “I think it's a shame because it could be a great money maker for the city,” said Bruce Roland, 51, a 36-year resident. “I've always enjoyed playing at Western Row, and I just hate to see a good public golf course be eliminated. It seems like just about every other course around Mason is private.”

        The prospect of losing Western Row is especially tough on longtime patrons like Mr. Berry and his golf partner Ken Robinett. They play about two times a week during the summer and have seen Western Row grow from a small, underdeveloped, 9-hole course to one of the city's longest 18-hole courses at 6,746 yards.

        “We'll be able to find other places to play I'm sure, but it won't be the same,” said Mr. Robinett, 55, who's been playing at Western Row since the 1970s. “This was the perfect golf course for the average golfer. It was cheap, well-kept and extremely golfer friendly.”

        Mr. Berry, 53, adds: “This golf course has been like a second home. I wish it would stay.”


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