Ahwatukee residents who want to hear directly from people trying to restore Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course will have their chance next month.
Save the Lakes is holding its annual organizational meeting at 10 a.m. March 9 at Ahwatukee Recreation Center, 5001 E. Cheyenne Drive, Ahwatukee, and will start with a town hall meeting open to anyone.
The speakers will feature attorney Tim Barnes, who is representing homeowners Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin in their lawsuit against The True Life Companies and current owner Wilson Gee.
Also on the list of speakers are some experts in the local golf course scene as well as one of the principal architects of the Lakes course itself – land planner Wayne Smith.
Other speakers will include Buddie Johnson, a golf course appraiser and developer of Las Sendas Golf Club in Mesa; - RJ Hawley, Millennium Golf, former manager of Tempe’s municipal golf courses; and Don Rea, PGA director and of operator Augusta Ranch Golf Course in Mesa.
“We’re working to get a few more,” said Jeff Hall, Save the Lakes president. He said the meeting is aimed at giving interested members of the public a chance to come “face-to-face with people who know what’s what.”
The meeting will come only weeks after Breslin and Swain rejected an offer by Gee to resolve the court battle over his 2013 closure of the 101-acre site.
Stating that it could take as long as three more years for the courts to resolve that fight, Gee offered to share potentially millions of dollars in profits if they allow him to sell the land to a homebuilder.
In an email to the two plaintiffs, Save the Lakes and the Ahwatukee Board of Management, Gee said he could possibly reap between $20 million and $25 million by selling the site to a homebuilder if the land use restrictions requiring a golf course were lifted.
In return, he promised to pay all legal fees incurred by Breslin, Swain and Save the Lakes. He also offered to give Swain and Breslin each 1 percent of the profits and 18 percent to ABM for any community improvements that the umbrella HOA and its member homeowners associations want to make.
Gee regained ownership of the site after foreclosing on The True Life Companies when it walked away from paying nearly $9 million it had agreed to spend on buying the land.
True Life, which is still the primary defendant in the suit by Swain and Breslin, wanted to build about 270 homes in what it initially envisioned as an “agrihood” with a five-acre farm, private school and amenities.
Gee insists that houses are the only future for the defunct golf course and one of the reasons why Save the Lakes is presenting the three golf course experts is to refute that contention.
Johnson was an expert witness called by Barnes during the 2017 trial on the lawsuit.
He has said on several occasions that it would probably cost about $6 million to restore the onetime 18-hole executive golf course. That estimate is less than half what an expert hired by True Life gave several years ago.
As the man who plotted out the course, Smith’s presence at the Town Hall will likely be to explain why houses on the site could jeopardize the golf course’s built-in flood controls during runoff from South Mountain.
The hang-up in efforts by True Life and a previous homebuilder to build houses remains the covenants, conditions and restrictions that are central to Superior Court Judge John Hannah’s January 2018 ruling that the land can only be used for a golf course.
To change those restrictions, 51 percent of the Lakes’ approximate 5,400 homeowners must agree to the change – something that True Life spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over two years trying to accomplish through an aggressive campaign. It is believed it fell at least several hundred votes short.
Although Gee’s offer noted that “currently, if the golf course restriction is lifted with 51 percent of Ahwatukee voters, the property would revert back to the underlying zoning, permitting 133 lots,” he added that the cost of prepping the land for housing would probably require far more homes for a builder to find the venture profitable.
The CC&Rs dictate how the land must be used, but the site is zoned for single-family residences.
Gee’s offer said that 133 homes “may not be feasible, since the infrastructure cost of streets, water, sewer, and development fees” likely could only be covered by far more. While his offer did not say how many more houses would be needed, he noted that the density in adjacent HOAs is 5.5 homes per acre.
“I’m not asking for anything,” he told AFN. “Density is up to the community. There is no project right now. The only thing I wanted to do was resolve the court case. If I prevail on an appeal, they have a lot of attorney fees to pay. It has to be between $500,000 and $1 million. Maybe they can afford it, but that’s a lot of money.”
Gee said he considered his proposal “a fair and reasonable offer” that also would contain a benefit for the community at large, since BM and its associated HOAs could stand to reap millions. “They could determine how to spend it for the betterment of the whole community,” he said.
The case is before the Arizona Court of Appeals, which is not expected to even hear arguments until sometime this summer and is under no time restrictions for issuing a decision. Moreover, the losing party can as the state Supreme Court to consider the case..
Gee and True Life contend an order forcing the restoration of a golf course – which they say will never be profitable – violates the Constitutional amendment that forbids slavery.
Barnes has rebutted that contention in the appeal, and likely will address it during the town hall.