The bitter battle over the future of the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course intensified last week as a top official for developer/owner True Life Companies said it might set a deadline for its campaign to win the support of enough homeowners for its “agrihood” plan.
Expressing frustration over the pace of its effort to get approval from 51 percent of the community’s approximate 5,200 homeowners to change land-use regulations for the 101-acre course, True Life executive vice president Aidan Barry said, “We’re thinking of a deadline” in order to “create a sense of urgency” among residents.
“We are not as far along as we want to be,” Barry said, adding, however, that the 1,700 approvals the company already has obtained to change the course’s conditions, covenants and regulations surpasses the total votes cast in Ahwatukee Lakes during last year’s presidential primary.
Barry made his remarks March 1 during a meeting with about eight homeowners that was held at the same time about 150 Lakes homeowners gathered two miles away at a Save the Lakes town hall to hear a half-dozen professionals condemn True Life and its plans.
The simultaneous meetings produced a stark contrast in predictions about the course’s future and the impact of True Life’s Ahwatukee Farms proposal.
Golf course developer Buddy Johnson told Save the Lakes supporters that he had been contacted by several groups of investors that want to buy and restore the golf course.
But almost at the same time, Barry was telling his audience that True Life is about to release a report apparently aimed at killing once and for all the notion that the course can be revived.
That report is being prepared by a subsidiary of Troon, one of the world’s preeminent golf course developers and operators.
After buying the course for about $8.2 million, True Life needs a majority of homeowners to sign off on its plan for a development that would include approximately 270 to 300 homes, a private school, a five-acre farm, a café and trails.
Stepping up its campaign, True Life conducted informal meetings with interested homeowners twice during the week and then held an outdoor event near the golf course, bringing a food truck along with literature explaining the Farms concept.
People who attended the first of last week’s meetings raised many of the same questions that others have raised before with True Life.
Those questions ranged from concerns over the number and location of the new homes, additional traffic, the possibility of the golf course’s revival and the company’s plans to curb storm water flow from South Mountain.
“There aren’t any buyers for a golf course even if you gave it away,” said Barry, unaware that Johnson was telling another audience a different story.
Johnson told his audience, “There are four or five groups of people who are not only credible but have money who are interested.”
However, he admitted not knowing what it would cost to revive the course, which he called “a gem.”
“The longer it goes the way it is, the more expensive it will be to restore it,” Johnson said. “We have someone waiting in the wings who will give me an idea of what it will take to make it a golf course again.”
While several professionals were telling the Save the Lakes audience that the Farms plan would demolish existing flood controls on the site, Barry pointed to his hydrology consultants’ proposals and slammed “the fear-based level of opposition” True Life had been dealing with.
“Our goal is to improve the drainage,” Barry said, noting his hydrologists have come up with a design that would curb and possibly end periodic flooding along Lakeside Drive during heavy rains.
Barry’s audience also expressed concern about where the new houses would be located, citing concerns that homeowners on the course would lose their views.
Barry told them that while there would be a mix of one- and two-story houses, True Life is considering setbacks and only one-story homes in those lots nearest the existing houses.
True Life plans to have two single detached homes and one townhouse with two units separated by an adjacent wall on each gross acre. As Barry explained it, a gross acre is computed by calculating the entire area within the golf course’s perimeter.
That provoked concerns among his audience about lot sizes, to which he replied, “I don’t know those lot sizes because we haven’t got to that level of detail.” He said such detail would have to be included in plans submitted to the city if the company gets approval for changes to the CC&Rs.
But Ben Holt, Save the Lakes president, told his audience the additional homes meant “the density has to increase. You can’t build on every square foot of that acreage.”
There also were starkly different descriptions of the pending trial in June over the lawsuit filed by two Lakes residents that seeks to force True Life to restore the golf course.
At the Save the Lakes meeting, attorney Jeff Hall, a Lakes resident, told the crowd that an order restoring the golf course had already been issued as a result of the judge’s preliminary ruling last June.
“This is a judge telling True Life ‘I want you to follow those CC&Rs,’” Hall told his audience, stating that trial was being held only to determine the future shape and timing of the golf course’s restoration.
Asked later about Hall’s remarks, Aidan said:
“Mr. Hall is completely wrong. The judge made a preliminary ruling only. That ruling was simply that the CC&R restricting the land use is ‘an affirmative restriction.’ We do not contest that ruling. That is why we are pursuing an amendment to the CC&Rs.”
Barry also said:
“It has always been our intention to amend the CC&Rs that currently restrict the use of the property to a golf course. The preliminary ruling issued last year only stated that the current CC&Rs indicate the property owner has to operate a golf course, not to what extent the golf course should look like.
“The upcoming trial will decide whether an injunction should be issued to force the opening of a golf course. It will likely not determine the size, shape, layout or operations of what constitutes a golf course. We believe the forced opening of a failed business is a clear violation of our rights as a property owner and would place an extreme and unconstitutional hardship on us. We look forward to making our case and intend to appeal an adverse ruling, which could be a 12- to 18-month process.
In the meantime, we will continue our successful public affairs campaign to collect signatures from the community to amend the CC&Rs, which would make the trial a moot point.”