Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course owner Wilson Gee committed an array of errors in his Guest Commentary “An apology and the future of Ahwatukee Lakes” which appeared in the May 21 edition of the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Please allow me to correct the record.
Gee and his business partners bought the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course in 2006 at the height of the real estate market. Five years later, at a special meeting of the Save The Lakes membership in November of 2012, Gee admitted that he made a bad business decision when he bought the golf course and that he paid too much for it. He then pleaded with the members to help him find a way out. In other words, it appears that Gee wants Ahwatukee homeowners to suffer a loss in their property values by giving up a community amenity, the golf course, so he can recoup his bad investment.
The Lakes Golf Course property and the Ahwatukee Golf Club (formerly Ahwatukee Country Club) are protected by deed restrictions which clearly state that the property can only be used as a golf course. In order for the deed restrictions to be lifted, 51 percent of the Ahwatukee homeowners would have to agree to the change. Gee and Pulte Corp. will likely be asking homeowners to vote or sign petitions requesting a change in the deed restrictions very soon. Save The Lakes is asking all Ahwatukee homeowners to be very careful not to sign anything that would remove or alter the deed restrictions protecting the property.
In documents filed with Maricopa County, Gee lists the purchase price of The Lakes Golf Course at $4 million — a cash purchase. While we don’t know the exact purchase price for the course that Pulte Corp. has agreed to pay Gee, our sources estimate it to be between $7 and $12 million — a return of from $3 million to $8 million.
Gee suggests in his commentary that a few homeowners living on the golf course may force the entire community to pay a $1,500 special assessment in order to buy the golf course from him. He also claims that the annual assessment of Ahwatukee Board of Management (ABM) members would double or triple to cover the cost of maintaining and operating the course. He fails to mention that no one can levy a special assessment on the ABM homeowners without their approval — not even the ABM Board of Directors. His statement appears designed to scare homeowners that they will be stuck with a bill of Gee’s own making — when, in reality, it’s the homeowners who are in control.
In a telephone conversation with Mr. Gee on Thursday, May 15, I informed him that the statement he made about a special assessment was wrong and asked him to retract it. As of May 18, I’ve not only seen no retraction, but saw the statement repeated in his letter to The Arizona Republic.
Gee claims he is now draining the ponds on the golf course and removing the fencing in response to a new city of Phoenix ordinance regarding fencing on closed golf courses. The new ordinance limits the length of time a fence can be left on a closed golf course to 12 months, would require no barbed-wire and a 50-foot set back from the course perimeter. In other words, Gee has until the fall to take down his fence.
In June of 2013 Gee also announced that he was going to drain the lakes on the course. The outcry from the community and action by the Ahwatukee Board of Management and Councilman Sal DiCiccio led to Gee’s eventual reversing course.
In his claim that The Lakes Golf Course cannot succeed financially Gee ignored that Rolling Hills Golf Course in Tempe, also an 18-hole executive course, has experienced a turnaround financially after a new management team took over its operation. In fact, we who used to play The Lakes were astounded at the deterioration after Gee purchased it in 2006. A deep economic recession, and in our opinion, poor management and maintenance are responsible for the decline in rounds played on The Lakes. Were The Lakes properly maintained and managed, we believe it would be profitable, as it was before Gee bought it.
In short, while The Lakes may make a California developer see big dollar signs for its building potential, it means far more to this community than a mere golf course. It’s open space, which is at a premium in Ahwatukee. It is a migratory stop-over for waterfowl. It’s 102 acres of open space and provides essential cooling in Ahwatukee in an otherwise sea of asphalt and tile roofs. Adding 250-300 homes with more streets and tile roofs and some 500-600 automobiles would overcrowd 44th and 48th streets and Knox and Warner roads.
Once The Lakes Golf Course is gone, it is gone forever. To paraphrase Gee when he says in his commentary that “there are no mulligans in business,” likewise, there are no mulligans for Ahwatukee once The Lakes is developed into housing.
• Ben Holt is president of Save The Lakes, Inc.