Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course

With a foreclosure slated for Thursday, the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course will return to Wilson Gee’s ownership. How long it will be in its current condition is anyone’s guess since Gee already is appealing a judge’s order to restore the site to a golf course.

One was the object of a bitter and expensive campaign and the other inspired a plan hatched by an Ahwatukee man while he was on work release from the County Jail.

But by this time next week, the ambitions inspired respectively by the Ahwatukee Lakes and Club West golf courses will expire once and for all as Wilson Gee gets them back.

“We’re not holding back on the foreclosure sales,” Gee told the AFN last week.

With a trustee sale of both sites set for Tuesday at his lawyer’s office, Gee said he is “99 percent sure” that The True Life Companies has no intention of paying off its $8.6 million note for the Lakes course and that Richard Breuninger won’t be ponying up the $1.3 million he owes for Club West.

Breuninger on Wednesday told AFN he is just waiting for a wire transfer of the money and he expected to close a deal by the end of the week.

“I believe the Lakes owner is walking away for sure,” said Gee, who held out an olive branch to Lakes residents in the hopes of reaching a settlement on the course’s future.

Nonetheless, he also is prepared to continue the court fight over it.

“With the Lakes, we filed our appeal,” he said. “But once the foreclosure is completed, there are legal technical issues we have to settle in terms of taking over the lawsuit. But we’d like to sit down with the plaintiffs and see if we can work something out. I’ve gone through this so long and I think everyone in the community is tired of this eyesore.”

Gee is so convinced that True Life is walking away from the 101-acre Lakes site that he had a work crew go there to clear weeds and other debris that residents have been complaining about for more than a year.

The site was so unsightly that nearly four dozen citations filed by city inspectors against True Life are pending in Phoenix Municipal Court, carrying fines totaling $330,000.

Two Lakes residents sued both Gee and True Life and won a Superior Court judge’s ruling that they had violated the covenants, conditions and restrictions by not maintaining a golf course.

But Gee said “economically it doesn’t make sense” to restore the course – especially in light of his plans to ensure that Club West Golf Course remains a viable site.

“Why would someone want to spend $6 million or $12 million on building a golf course there when you have Club West?” he said.

During the trial on the Lakes suit last October, residents’ experts estimated it would cost $6 million to restore the Lakes while True Life’s expert estimated the cost at more than twice that.

Gee closed the course in 2013 and sold it initially to Pulte Homes, which in 2014 gave up its effort to persuade residents to allow it to build 250 homes and leave 40 acres open for green space.

True Life offered an even more ambitious plan, dubbing its proposal Ahwatukee Farms, but it wound up at the same dead end.

It proposed building about 270 single and duplex homes, a five-acre farm, a private pre-K-12 school, cafe and other amenities.

Despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a campaign to persuade 51 percent of the approximate 5,400 homeowners to amend the CC&Rs governing the site, however, True Life fell at least several hundred signatures short. Company officials have never revealed the number of signatures they obtained.

Prior to the trial, it then offered to build a 9-hole “fun course” if residents allowed the homes to be built. That offer was rejected by the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Eileen Breslin and Linda Swain.

“Club West is easier” to resolve, Gee said.

He said Ahwatukee businessman Rande Leonard, owner of the storage facility on Gila Reservation land at 32nd Street and Pecos Road, is continuing his plan to construct a pipeline that will bring water from a Salt River Project canal located on the reservation to Club West and even the Foothills Golf Course if it is ever needed there.

Leonard has formed a company that would own the pipeline and collect a transmission fee from whoever ends up owning Club West Golf Course. That owner would also have to pay Salt River Project for the water. Gee said the project is now in the engineering stage.

Leonard estimates the work can be completed late next year.

It needs to be since the line must be laid before the South Mountain Freeway is finished.

The Arizona Department of Transportation agreed to install two sleeves that will enable the transmission pipe to be installed beneath the freeway.

That agreement came as the result of neogitations organized by state Rep. Jill Norgaard, city Councilman Sal DiCiccio and Ahwatukee Village Planning Committee Chair Chad Blostone.

The cost of city water has been an issue for Gee at Club West. Two years ago, he said he could no longer afford more than $700,000 a year in city water bills, so he shut down irrigation to the site.

That led to a lawsuit by the Club West HOA board, which dropped the suit last December after Breuninger had virtually restored the site’s lush greenery and opened it for golf.

In late 2016, Club West resident Jim Lindstrom launched a detailed effort to have residents buy the course, but he failed to interest enough homeowners to buy into the effort.

Breuninger approached Gee about a year ago while Breuninger was awaiting sentence for his third extreme DUI conviction in eight years.

Court records show he was convicted of a misdemeanor extreme DUI in 2008, pleaded guilty to a second extreme DUI in 2011 and was arrested a third time for extreme DUI in 2015.

In that third case, court records show, Breuninger was stopped while returning from a party. He registered a blood alcohol level of just under .20 – well over the .08 level for a legal determination of drunken driving.

Breuninger pleaded guilty in a plea agreement on March 7, 2017, to one felony count of endangerment and one misdemeanor count of extreme DUI – charges representing “non-dangerous, non-repetitive offenses,” according to court records.

During a June 9, 2017, sentencing hearing, Superior Court Commissioner David Seyer granted Breuninger’s request to serve an eight-month jail sentence on work release in a jail run by the Oneida Nation in Outagamie County, Wisconsin. Breuninger and his father are members of the Oneida tribe.

According to the plea agreement worked out between the County Attorney’s office and Breuninger’s lawyer, Seyer also sentenced Breuninger to three years’ probation and revoked his driver’s license.

Assistant County Attorney Edward G. Paine reminded Seyer that during a plea conference several months earlier, “it was made crystal clear to this defendant…that given his blood alcohol content and given his recent history from 2008 to 2015, that this is not normally a plea offer that would be made,” according to a transcript.

Paine also alluded to unspecified new concessions sought by Breuninger, saying, “That’s not going to happen. He signed a contract and it’s his time to live up to his end of the bargain.”

For unknown reasons, Outagamie County jail officials never could accommodate Breuninger.

Instead, Maricopa County Sheriff’s records show Breuninger began serving his work-release sentence at the jail on July 21, 2017, and was released March 20.

During that time, he accomplished a great deal: He negotiated the $1.3 million purchase of Club West, finalizing it on Dec. 1; hired a newly created company called Club West Golf Management that he persuaded William Day, a Waste Management executive, to invest $350,000 for reseeding the course and running its day-to-day operations; got approximately 60 Club West homeowners to spend about $200,000 on membership in a semi-private golf club; and reached an agreement with Biscuits Restaurant owner Lloyd Melton to open his fourth eatery at the Club West clubhouse.

But even before he completed his jail sentence, all his work began falling apart.

The city Water Services Department cut off service for unpaid bills on Feb. 22. The course quickly began turning brown. County health inspectors closed down Biscuits because of the water problem. And the angry members of the semi-private club began meeting to figure out how they would recoup the membership fees of between $3,600 and $6,000 that each had paid.

Throughout that time, Breuninger insisted that Club West Golf Management was at fault and that he trusted the company – run by a woman Breuninger had met nine years ago at Brookline College-Phoenix. He also sold the clubhouse to Melton for $100 in a deal that enabled Melton to open a separate account with the city for water and reopen Biscuits Club West.

Gee said he did not know Breuninger was on work release when he negotiated the purchase and that “I would have asked him for a down payment” if he had.

He said Breuninger had assured him – as the private club members said they were assured as well – that he would be able to secure a source of cheaper water on the Gila River Indian Community reservation because he knew fellow Native Americans there.

Gee said Breuninger made a couple of his $35,000-a-month payments on the note.

He said he and Breuninger have talked about his delinquency and finally decided “enough is enough” and filed for the trustee sale to take back the course.

Breuninger in June told the AFN he was negotiating a $3 million investment to pay Gee and restore the course and that he expected the deal to be done by July 4.

Breuninger did not return a call seeking comment last week, but on Wednesday he called and disputed any notion he would lose the course.

Gee last week said he has not heard from him for several weeks.

"I don't know why he would say that," Breuninger told AFN. "I talked to him for an hour last week."

 

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