“True Life came in here and trashed our community, they created an eyesore,” Sal DiCiccio said.
Special to AFN

Jubilation, uncertainty and disappointment punctuated the latest chapter in the long-running saga of the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.

Homeowners and their allies who opposed a plan to build houses on the 101-acre site cheered Judge John Hannah’s rejection of The True Life Companies’ effort to dump deed restrictions requiring a course on land it has owned since 2015.

In a prepared joint statement, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin, and Save the Lakes called the decision “a warning to developers who undercut homeowner protections – and a first step in restoring the golf course and its neighborhoods.”

True Life Executive Vice President Aidan Barry said, “We are greatly disappointed in the decision and the verdict.”

And the man who ultimately might find the course back in his hands, Wilson Gee, said he was uncertain what will happen now as the case continues chugging through the court system

“It’s up to True Life where we go from here,” Gee told AFN. “They said they will discuss it before they meet with me.

“I’m not really going to do anything,” Gee added, noting True Life “has threatened to tie it up in bankruptcy court.

“That could be, what, two years?” he said. “I don’t want to speculate because I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I have no control over this.”

Barry said True Life is “currently evaluating all of our move-forward options.”

Citing the deadlines that Hannah has set over the next eight weeks for various post-verdict actions in the case, Barry said, “We will work consistent with the direction from the judge on the time frame, but we’re evaluating our options as we speak.

“We’re still evaluating from a legal perspective the findings of fact and the conclusions of law and have yet to kind of understand …how the judge got to his decision, but we’re in the process of evaluating that and evaluating what our next steps are.”

Unbowed by Hannah’s occasionally harsh words for True Life, Barry also said, “We’re very proud of our vision for the redevelopment of the Ahwatukee Lakes property.”

He also said the company is “very excited” about its outreach to Ahwatukee Lakes homeowners and “very, very appreciative of the support that we received from a large segment of the community.”

True Life for more than a year had campaign aggressively to get just over half the approximate 5,400 Lakes homeowners to change the covenants, conditions and restrictions requiring a golf course. It ended up getting the support of about 2,000.

Swain praised Hannah’s decision that “as a matter of law, we are entitled to an injunction to undo the damage to our community caused by developers over 10 years’ time.

“In order to make millions for themselves, they destroyed the landscape, blighted our neighborhoods, divided our community, undercut the value of our homes – and then blamed the victims,” Swain said.

Breslin said, “The victims include elderly women alone, some getting around with walkers or canes, who invested their life savings in homes along the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course to ensure a quiet, secure retirement.

“Instead, they’ve been rolled by developers and shut out by the Ahwatukee Board of Management, which nevertheless took their annual fees. Who was to speak for these women, if we did not?  Who will speak for us, if the time comes again?”

Ben Holt, a member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee and president of Save the Lakes/Save Open Space, ridiculed True Life’s contention a golf course would not be profitable.

“Developer True Life told us that golf is dead, yet they continue to invest millions in golf properties,” he said, citing testimony by a witness for Swain and Breslin that three or four buyers were interested in restoring a golf course.

He thanked the judge and the plaintiffs’ attorney, Tim Barnes, as well as “the majority of the Ahwatukee community who generously supported our effort – and refused to permit not one but three different developers to roll us over.

“This was a community-wide effort,” Holt said. “The victory belongs to the thousands of people who supported us. We anticipate seeking damages to properly restore the golf course and its neighborhoods.”

He also praised Swain and Breslin, who, he said, “endured insults, abuse, threats and recrimination for standing up to big-money developers and those who supported them. By their example, Linda and Eileen embody the definition of hero. We and the entire Village of Ahwatukee owe them a tremendous debt.”

City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a vocal opponent of True Life’s plan to build about 270 homes, a five-acre farm and other amenities on the site, also praised the verdict and lashed out at the company.

“True Life came in here and trashed our community, they created an eyesore,” he said.

“Now, the courts are clear: Our neighbors have a right to be involved in every step of the process,” DiCiccio added.

“The future of the Lakes cannot be decided without them at the table. This should send a message to anyone else looking to develop this site – they cannot come into our community, dictate terms, create a disaster, and expect to be rewarded for it.

“Whatever shape this area takes in the future must have buy-in from our community, or it will not happen,” DiCiccio said.

Village Planning Committee Chairman Chad Blostone echoed those remarks, stating “a collaborative approach to redevelopment is necessary” and noted that “previous owners and developers have told the community what they want and how things are to be. All failed.

“Zoning should be modified first, not the CC&Rs,” Blostone said. “That way, the community knows exactly what it’s getting before agreeing to a broad change to the CC&Rs.”

Blostone also said True Life had sought “zoning that provides the land the highest sales price.”

Instead, he said, the site should have been valued at a “more reasonable” price “that would result in more open space, less housing density and a more equitable end result – one that more fairly balances the reasonable expectations and rights of the community and those of the land owner.”

But Blostone also warned that a possible bankruptcy and other issues surrounding the next steps in the case “will complicate an already very complicated site.”

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