"Save the Lakes" during Ahwatukee's 38th Annual Easter Parade on Saturday, April 19, 2014.

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

The Ahwatukee Board of Management (ABM) has been accused of being dormant over the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course since it closed last year, but those in charge say it’s not possible for the homeowners association to do any more.

Doing hypothetical math, Robert Blakesley, general manager of ABM, said for the HOA to purchase the course and turn it into a park it’d have to charge a $500-$1,000 special assessment to each home, and double the monthly assessments to maintain the land.

That special assessment price assumes the HOA is able to purchase the course for $1-$2 million, which would be a significant discount, according to estimates. Ben Holt, president of Save the Lakes, said he believes the course’s current owner, Wilson Gee, could get more than $7 million for the land if he sells it to a developer, and was asking $4 million for it last year when approached by a golf company.

ABM would also need to double maintenance staff to maintain the new acreage since it would double what its staff currently takes care of. Those costs would rise even more if homeowners wanted the course to be operated as a golf course.

The HOA has taken some heat from homeowners in the area who want to see it do more to stop the golf course from going into disrepair or being sold to a developer. The controversy and frustration from neighbors caused longtime board president, Rob Robinson, to resign from his position as president on April 1. Vice president Chris Gentis also resigned. At the board meeting on Wednesday, April 16, Robinson was voted vice president of the board and Dan Smith was named the new president.

Legally, the HOA’s hands are tied, according to its attorney, Dean Formaneck.

“ABM is not a party to the matter,” he said. “It would be like saying, ‘Ahwatukee Board of Management, let’s get involved in something going on in Fountain Hills.’ They are not the main party in charge of enforcement.”

The golf course has never paid assessment fees to the HOA, so the HOA has no enforcement power over the course.

Deed restriction

A deed restriction placed on the property states the golf course must be used for a golf course or golf course purposes only. Anyone wanting to change that deed restriction, to allow for development, would need approval from at least 51 percent of the area’s 5,073 homeowners. If a vote were called for, ABM would have only one vote. The vote of the association would weigh no more than the vote of any individual homeowner.

“As we sit right now that property is not being used for anything that is not permitted,” Formaneck said. “I don’t think anybody has any right to force a business owner to stay open, unless they have a contract with someone. That’s not what we’re dealing with here.”

Formaneck said he has advised the association not to take an official stance on the issue because it is not the association’s battle to fight.

“It may be the battle of any number of people that own property out there and any number of those people can do anything they want, just like the members of Save the Lakes,” he said. “They want to keep it open as a golf course. I think that’s a fine position to take. I also think it’s fine if people want something there besides a dead golf course. Every owner gets to make that decision, not ABM.”

Though the association is not taking an official stance on whether or not to keep the course a course Karen Young, assistant general manager of ABM, said ABM has done all it can to help the situation.

“We have the Save the Lakes website on our website,” Young said. “We have provided maps and mailing lists, as requested. Everything that the board has been requested to do, we’ve done other than make a public, minuted statement.”

Young said ABM has also promised not to have any meetings on the subject without a Save the Lakes representative present. It has had several special meetings on the subject, and when the lakes were drying up, it negotiated to have them filled through February of 2014. She said the HOA has also done as much as it can behind the scenes to prepare for whatever happens with the property.

“If they think ABM isn’t doing anything strategically and planning for when the time is right, that’s incorrect,” she said. “There’s an attorney-client privilege there, but ABM has spent a significant amount of money thus far having the situation clarified with its counsel — what to do, when to do it. His advice is there’s nothing happening right now. To quote him at the annual meeting, ‘I don’t want your money right now.’”

Pulte Group

Pulte Group has signed a memorandum of understanding on the property. The company has been meeting with small neighborhood groups clarifying their position, which is Pulte did not cause the closure of the course. Its intention is to build less than 250 homes on the 102-acre site, if it is deemed appropriate.

“Those hoping this land will be redeveloped as a golf course owe it to themselves to try to find a golf course operator that is willing to purchase this property at a price agreeable to the seller,” said Jacque Petroulakis, spokesperson for Pulte. “Pulte owns and operates many golf courses in residential settings. Based upon our internal analysis, we do not believe an economically viable golf course can ever be redeveloped on this property at a purchase price potentially agreeable to the seller. We believe both the aesthetics of a vacant golf course and the uncertainty that it creates for adjacent owners will certainly not be beneficial to the community. Pulte believes this redevelopment proposal eliminates the uncertainty and instability of vacant land and offers the best opportunity for this property.”

Save the Lakes, a group of neighbors opposed to developing the land, is currently having a feasibility study done on the course to see if it can be brought back to life. It’s also distributing a petition to homeowners in the area asking them to uphold the deed restriction.

For more information on Save the Lakes, visit savethelakes.weebly.com. For more information on ABM, visit ahwatukeehoa.com.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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