November 2, 2004
The Arizona Daily Star recently printed an article about First
United Realty purchasing Historic Sapori Ranch. The Article
quoted First United President Richard Schust several times. We
have included the article as well as our letter to the editor which
we sent to the Star and to the reporter.
Historic Sopori Ranch sold for $22M
By Tony Davis
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
One of Southern Arizona's largest and oldest cattle ranches changed
hands this week in a $22 million purchase that could lead to its
development in a year. The new owners of the Sopori Ranch say they
are not sure how they will develop the nearly 12,600 acres they
bought Monday from an Illinois-based family that had held the ranch
for more than a decade. The cash purchase also includes the ownership
of state and federal grazing leases, giving the landowners the
ability to run cattle on an additional 45,800 publicly owned acres
in the surrounding hills.
"It's just beautiful. Beautiful property," said Richard Schust,
president of First United Realty, of Phoenix, in explaining why
he and other investors bought the land from the Croll family of
Now, the future of Sopori, which straddles the Pima-Santa Cruz
county line, has drawn the attention of environmentalists and Pima
County officials because of its reported importance as a wildlife
A local environmental group, Sky Island Alliance, said it has
tracked the movements of mountain lions, black bears, bobcats and
other large mammals along two washes crossing publicly owned land
near Sopori over the past year.
Covered by desert scrub, mesquite, catclaw, oak and a half-dozen
perennial grass species, Sopori has long been prized by developers,
ranchers, environmentalists and biologists. Its cattle ranching
dates back to the days of explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, who ran
the ranch when he controlled the Tubac presidio south of Tucson
from 1759 to 1775.
From 1950 to 1993, the ranch was owned by the family and estate
of movie mogul Jack Warner, and after his death in 1978, his widow,
Ann Warner. The just-opened movie "Spin," directed by Robert Redford's
son Jamie, was shot in part on the Sopori Ranch.
About 40 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles south of Green Valley,
Sopori more recently has been seen as a potential "domino" leading
to development of the Santa Cruz River Valley south to Nogales.
It's not far south of the 6,000-acre Canoa Ranch, where a 2,200-home
development is under way following a zoning conflict in the late
1990s and early part of this century. More than 2,800 acres of
the ranch lies within a half-mile of Interstate 19, making it an
appealing location for ranching or development, real estate officials
But Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said this week
that he's interested in having the county possibly buy some or
all of Sopori's 4,300 acres inside Pima County.
The remaining 8,300 acres lie in Santa Cruz County.
The Pima acreage lies within the county's Conservation Lands System,
which requires developers to set aside 75 percent to 95 percent
of such environmentally sensitive land as open space when they
The head of a real estate company that brokered the ranch's sale
said Thursday that he believes the new owners will develop Sopori
as they have done numerous other ranches across the state: in 36-
to 40-acre parcels rather than the higher-density, suburban master-planned
communities ringing Tucson.
Schust declined to say how many investors exist and who the others
are, saying, "I'm not really that interested in people knowing
He said his group purchased the property as a long-term investment,
with an eye to selling it for development no sooner than a year
He refused to rule out a master-planned community but said investors
currently have no plans to seek higher-density zoning than the
current limit of about one house per four acres.
"If we don't do anything with it for a number of years, there's
no problem," Schust said. "There is no bank debt on this. You never
want to say never, but I can tell you at this point I'll be very
surprised if we do anything on it in the next 12 months."
The company bought all but 515 acres of the private land, leaving
behind the main ranch house complex. Brian Croll, one of three
Croll family siblings, did not respond to questions about why the
family wants to keep that land.
It probably had something to do with the ranch's historical importance
and with the fact that John Croll, Brian's father, is buried on
the ranch, said Dick Johnson, a Tucson Realty and Trust Co. associate
who represented the Crolls.
In selling ranchettes on the 18,000-acre Salero Ranch east of
Tubac, First United's Web site offers prospective buyers choices
of "level to gracefully rolling terrain, verdant valleys to commanding
hilltop overlooks, cascading rockwall backdrops to sparkling creek
frontages, quiet cul-de-sacs and more."
"The fact that Rick Schust bought the ranch bodes well for those
concerned for the environment," said Hank Amos, owner and CEO of
Tucson Realty and Trust, which also represented the ranch buyers. "If
I was an environmentalist, I would be glad he is the purchaser
as opposed to someone else. That feeling of openness out there
is probably going to stay that way."
But even 36- to 40-acre lots break up land where deer, bear and
other wildlife play, according to a U.S. Forest Service biologist
"The bigger the parcel the better, but it still does fragment
habitat," said the service's Debbie Sebesta. "It still has roads
in there and people having horses. It's better than five-acre or
one-acre parcels, but it is still left best the way it is."
Environmentalist Matt Skroch of the Sky Island Alliance said the
group still hopes to find a conservation buyer willing to save
the land. Another environmentalist, Daniel Patterson of the Center
for Biological Diversity, said he hopes environmentalists can persuade
the owners to cluster homes away from environmentally sensitive
Skroch called the Sopori Wash, which cuts east-west across the
ranch, "really the most important corridor across the Santa Cruz
Valley," from the three mountain ranges of the Tumacacori Highlands
to the Santa Rita Mountains: "A lot of species we normally don't
see in the United States are coming into our region in that area
because of the unbroken topography we have and the sky islands
Even 40-acre parcels could be a travesty if not properly controlled,
said Rich Bohman, vice president of the Santa Cruz Valley Citizens
Council, a community watchdog group operating from Amado south
to Rio Rico.
"It's very rugged terrain. It would not make sense to go back
in there and bulldoze roads, which is what happens with a lot of
these 40-acre subdivisions," Bohman said.
From his understanding, however, the Salero Ranch's development
is doing well, with lot-buyers signing covenants to prevent the
40-acre parcels from further subdivision, he said.
Schust said the investors are sensitive to the area and will try
to take it "slow and easy and make sure there is a consensus on
how this goes forward. I hope we can put together something where
you don't find a great outcry of opposition. For now, nothing is
going to happen to it."
To the Editor:
Your article on the sale of Sopori Ranch (published Friday October
29, 2004 ) is informative but it doesn't tell the whole story.
You quote Richard Schust of First United Realty several times during
your story. Our family is very familiar with Schust and the tactics
that First United Realty uses to sell the land they acquire.
We owned property in their Salero Ranch Development. Mr. Bohman
was incorrect that the land cannot be subdivided. Several parcels
of the development were dividable in 1997, and any of the land
could be subdivided in approximately 13 years from now, with a
75% vote of the home owners association.
And for Hank Amos, CEO of Tucson Realty and Trust, to say that
First United is a good steward of the land was also incorrect and
self serving. First United Realty sold property in Salero Ranch
with the sales pitch that all land in the development would be
sold as 36 acre ranches. After we purchased in Unit I, we were
told by First United that Unit III was going to be traded to the
Forest Service. In fact Unit III was sold to ASARCO mining company
which is owned by Mexico-Groupo, a Mexican company. This unit was
sold with strip mining rights. First United misled many buyers
of land. No wonder Schust says he's "not that interested in people
knowing my business." He doesn't want people to know what he is
doing. First we were told that the land would be 36 acre ranches,
then we were told it would be open space, then we found out ASARCO
owns it. Schust will tell you, as he told concerned Salero residents,
that ASARCO is going to trade the land with the Forest Service.
When we last contacted the Forest Service they stated there was
never any discussion of a land trade.
We suspect the real reason for the sale of Unit III to ASARCO
was because of an abandoned mine and the cost of cleaning up the
toxic tailings left behind. This unit was sold to ASARCO with mine
tailings from Alta Mine leaching into a tributary to Bond Canyon
Creek, which empties into the Santa Cruz River . Bond Canyon Creek
meanders through Units I & II and helps feed the water tables
of those units. Residents of Salero Ranch have wells. We were never
told of the hazards nor were we told of the sale to ASARCO. We
had to find this information out for ourselves. We contacted the
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) about the bio-hazards
and ASARCO was ordered to clean it up. When we last checked, ASARCO
was to be fined for failure to comply. We have no idea the current
status, but we would be suspect of any assurances of "sensitivity
to the area" surrounding Sopori Ranch.
First United Realty also illegally bulldozed in the access roads
to Salero Ranch, without proper permits and put an access road
directly through Bond Canyon Creek without obtaining any environmental
impact information or pulling any permits. We doubt that Sopori
Wash would be protected considering First United's history.
Why is Richard Schust so adamant about not releasing the names
of other investors? Usually if you aren't "that interested in people
knowing your business" about public sales of land - it leads one
to wonder if there is something to hide. Richard Schust and First
United certainly hid information from us.