The Vanco Golf Range has reached a deal to extend its lease with the city of Vancouver, avoiding — at least for the time being — a closure that was previously slated for next fall.
The lease extension still requires approval from the city council, which is expected to vote on the proposal on Monday. But the golf range’s owner, Chuck Milne, appears confident that the deal will be approved. He took to Facebook recently to notify and thank his customers, who had complained when the city said it wanted to target the land as part of a major redevelopment.
According to the city council’s Monday agenda, the agreement would amend the driving range’s lease to add an additional five-year term, and it would also give both Milne and the city the ability to terminate the lease early if they provide six months of advance notice.
Milne said the five-year term includes the remainder of the site’s current lease period, which runs through the end of 2020, so the new lease will expire at the end of 2024 if neither party terminates it early.
The Vanco range began operating at 703 N. Devine Road in approximately 1970. It includes a standalone driving range, a putting green and a chipping green, along with a central office and shop. It sees approximately 40,000 visitors per year, according to Milne.
Milne, a Vancouver resident and retired professional golfer, has owned and operated the business since 1982. The driving range sits on an otherwise undeveloped piece of city-owned property that is technically part of the adjacent Park Hill Cemetery, although the leased portion has never been used for burial purposes.
The lease has been renewed several times throughout the life of the driving range, but it became a sticking point when the city purchased the aging Tower Mall property on the other side of Devine Road in 2017 and created The Heights District Plan, which aims to redevelop the land into a residential and commercial center along the Mill Plain corridor.
The proposed Tower Mall redevelopment area extends across Mill Plain Boulevard to the north and Devine Road to the east, incorporating surrounding areas including the golf range property. Earlier this year, Milne said he’d been warned that city officials wanted to include the site in the Heights project and likely would not agree to another long-term lease.
Milne said he thought it would be too difficult to run the business on a short-term or month-to-month lease. In July, he began informing customers that he would permanently close the driving range in October or November of 2020, ahead of the winter season, when the facility typically sees much lower traffic.
The news generated resistance from many of the driving range’s regular customers, some of whom started a petition to ask the city to preserve the range. The petition gathered more than 750 signatures in the first few weeks.
Milne and the customers argued that the Vanco range property should be removed from the redevelopment plan and preserved because it provides a unique service for the area and is the city’s only golf facility on publicly owned property.
There was also an argument that the range site is restricted from any major redevelopment because it is technically part of the Park Hill property, which was annexed in 1914 and dedicated to cemetery purposes.
According to Vancouver City Attorney Bronson Potter, the city was able to remove the cemetery designation from the driving range land in 2018 through a statutory process that required approval from the Clark County Superior Court and the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.
In a report outlining the proposed lease extension for the council, Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes wrote that the early termination option would give the city more flexibility and allow Milne to continue operating the driving range until the site is needed for redevelopment.
When asked if he planned to continue advocating for the permanent preservation of the course, Milne said he’d wait to see how the Heights development plan unfolds and where the project stands at the end of the new lease period.
“My guess is we’d talk about it in five years,” he said.
In the immediate term, he said, he’s just happy to be able to keep the business open. In the Facebook post last week, he wrote that there will be a celebration event at the driving range in the spring.