The True Life Companies last week told a state Superior Court judge that the company will build a small golf course – if it is allowed to build homes on the 101-acre site of the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.
And it also warned that if he orders the company to restore the old course, the land will remain barren indefinitely.
The bombshell disclosures are contained in a brief filed by attorney Chris Baniszewski with state Superior Court Judge John R. Hannah Jr., who began on Tuesday, Oct. 24, hearing evidence in a three-day trial on two residents’ demand that True Life be ordered to restore the course.
Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the company’s Ahwatukee Farms plan, which would have turned the site into an “agrihood.”
The brief gives no details on how many homes and what kind of course the company would build if Hannah grants its request to modify the covenants, conditions and restrictions that first governed the site in 1986 and then renewed indefinitely in 1992.
All it states is: “The modification will allow additional homes to be built on the property that will generate the necessary funding to construct and operate a golf course.”
Attorney Thomas Barnes, who represents Lakes residents seeking the restoration of the 18-hole executive golf course, states in his brief that True Life wants to build a nine-hole “fun course.”
Baniszewski also warns that if True Life can’t build homes, “no golf course will be operated on the property and it will remain in fallow condition.”
True Life Executive Vice President Aiden Barry declined comment when asked about the brief by AFN last weekend.
Barnes asserts that True Life knew what the CC&Rs required when it paid $9 million to buy the site in 2015.
But he charges that True Life “was looking at the profitability of the sale of residences, not the operation of a golf course” when it bought the site and cannot now seek a modification of the CC&Rs.
Besides, he notes, the same set of CC&Rs govern both the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course and the Ahwatukee Country Club. That means True Life can’t have the CC&Rs modified because it doesn’t own Ahwatukee Country Club.
The brief seems to signal an end to the “agrihood” that True Life unveiled in August 2016.
That plan called for 270 single-family and duplex houses, a five-acre farm, a private school, café and other amenities on the site.
The company waged an aggressive campaign to persuade 51 percent of the approximate 5,400 Lakes homeowners to agree to a change in the CC&Rs that would pave the way for the agrihood.
That campaign stalled, reportedly at around 2,000 signatures, and True Life eventually asked the judge to rule that a “material change” in the course warranted a modification of the CC&Rs.
Lakes residents Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin want Hannah to order True Life to restore the 18-hole course.
In July of last year, Hannah ruled that the CC&Rs required a course, but left for trial the issue of whether True Life could be ordered to do that.
But True Life earlier this year released a consultant’s study that estimated it would cost $14 million to restore the course – and that figure did not include operating expenses.
In his brief, Baniszewski states, “The relative hardships in this case weigh heavily in favor of TTLC.”
“The cost of reconstructing and operating a stand-alone golf course on the property prevents TTLC from operating a golf course even if the court were to grant an injunction,” he states, adding that True Life “cannot attract investors or obtain a loan” for such a venture.
He also says the residents want an “aesthetically pleasing view, but that does not justify a requirement that TTLC expend millions of dollars to reconstruct and operate a golf course that lost money the last four years it was in operation and will likely not make a profit in the future.”
Baniszewski said it would take True Life 29 years just to recover its initial investment if it was forced to recreate a course.
“Consequently, the only realistic funding mechanism for a new golf course on the property is for a new golf course to be built in conjunction with a new home development.,” he adds.
True Life is proposing that the judge allow housing and that those new houses would comprise a new homeowners association that would operate the course.
Barnes counters, “The lack of profitability in operating a golf course on the property is a function of the $9 million price TTLC agreed to pay to purchase the Lakes Golf Course.”
While Barnes told the judge that residents are entitled to an injunction ordering the restoration of the course, Banizewski’s brief paints a grim picture of what could result.
Saying the likelihood of anyone restoring the site to its former glory “is remote at best,” he states:
“Instead the property will most likely be mired in bankruptcy proceedings. Moreover, given this court’s ruling that the owner of the property must operate a golf course, the chance that the property will be sold out of bankruptcy is also very unlikely….No golf course will be operated on the property and it will remain in its fallow condition.”