Swain: Save our open spaces in Ahwatukee - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Opinion

Swain: Save our open spaces in Ahwatukee

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 10:45 am | Updated: 4:00 pm, Fri Sep 12, 2014.

When Randall Presley began to develop Ahwatukee south of Warner Road, his engineers confronted a network of washes that ran into an unnamed stream. City of Phoenix Floodplain Management records designate that unnamed stream a “thalweg” — the lowest point in a Valley, prone to flooding.

Because of that network, Floodplain Management civil engineer Myesha Harris told me, “Ahwatukee is one big drainage problem.” Enormous drainage channels run off South Mountain toward Interstate 10, flooding major intersections and certain residential areas, every time it rains heavily.

Because a thalweg is a lousy place to build homes, Presley made the best of a bad situation. He decided the highest and best use of the watershed was as an oasis of open space, a great asset in a master-planned community. Then Presley went a step further, turning the drainage problem into a recreational opportunity. A championship-grade golf course would attract name golf tournaments and homebuyers — and Presley could charge a premium for adjacent lots. Thus, Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course was born, the logical solution to a problem in civil engineering.

A deal’s a deal

Presley sweetened the deal for the customers who bought homes overlooking the golf course by adding an addendum to their purchase contracts that stated “the golf course would remain a golf course.” To underscore that promise, Presley put deed restrictions (CC&Rs) on the golf course that specified it was to be used for golf-related activities only. As a final safeguard, Presley (purchased in 1987 by Gen. William Lyon, William Lyon Homes), retained the rights as “developer” and “declarant” to approve or deny any amendment to the deed restrictions. In other words, even if a majority of Ahwatukee Board of Management (ABM) homeowners could be misled into believing that constructing 300 homes in a flooding Valley makes sense, William Lyon Homes (WLH) has the power to stop it.

Unless I’m mistaken, because WLH acquired the contracts with the homeowners on the Lakes by purchasing Presley, WLH must under contract law reject any change in land use. WLH remains bound through its acquisition of Presley because: you can’t accept money for a lot on a golf course, then turn around and let another builder erect houses on the golf course. If it did, WLH would not only incur potential liability; no buyer would ever pay a lot premium to William Lyon Homes again.

Enter Wilson Gee

The new golf course owner, Wilson Gee, is a smart speculator. He saw an opportunity in 2006 when he bought The Lakes and the Ahwatukee Country Club for $5.2 million — more than they were worth. He pitched his scheme to country club members in 2008: “If you let me kill the Lakes, I will build you a new club house.” When the response was less than deafening, the following year, he was talking to the Pulte Corporation, luring the nation’s largest house builder.

The Great Recession of 2007-08 and consequent downturn in the golf industry provided Gee a fig leaf to cover his claim that golf is no longer profitable. (If golf were unprofitable, why did he snap up three more golf courses: The Foothills, Club West, and the Duke)?

Did an economic downturn cause Gee’s golf courses to fail, or is Gee turning his golf courses into blight to drive away customers, plead poverty, and turn them into big-time development via Pulte, at the expense of the homeowners of Ahwatukee?

The way I see it, Gee made two bad moves. First: he paid too much for two golf courses with ironclad deed restrictions (CC&Rs), only to discover that William Lyons Homes holds a trump card (developer and declarant rights). Second: he picked the former “No. 1 Short Course” in Arizona as the first on his list to euthanize. The Lakes was doing fine — until Gee — and could do so, again.

Give The Lakes a chance

The reality is: with good management, and a makeover supervised by the original architect, Gary Panks, The Lakes would reclaim the title of Arizona’s “No. 1 Short Course.” The Lakes hosted the Arizona Short Course Championship until 2010, until Gee’s blight ended it. Tempe’s Rolling Hills and Mesa’s Augusta Ranch, which have hosted the championship since, are thriving. That’s because longer championship courses are losing out these days — to short courses (like The Lakes, Rolling Hills and Augusta Ranch) that are faster to play. In addition, The Lakes has a huge advantage because it has inexpensive well water, is conveniently located off I-10, and is surrounded by communities of golfers: families, businessmen, and retirees.

What have we got to lose?

Open space! Quality of life. ZIP code 85048 already has the largest carbon footprint in Arizona; why would we let international developers expand our carbon footprint and demolish the open space and the abundant wildlife attracted to The Lakes? Who in their right mind would trade that for more houses, people, noise, and traffic?

Just say, ‘No’

Pulte knows the community is building tremendous opposition to its development, so it is pushing for a homeowner vote in May, before Pulte is overwhelmed. Since they insist, I urge you to vote to uphold the CC&Rs, to say that a golf course is the only possible, and best, use of the watershed.

When the Pulte agent knocks on your door, politely say: “No, thank you!”

When you get a Pulte ballot or proxy document in the mail, kindly recycle it.

Save the Lakes, Save Ahwatukee!

For more information, visit SavetheLakes.weebly.com.

• Linda Swain, a former technical writer, has been on the board of Save the Lakes since 2008. She and her husband, Dennis, have lived in Ahwatukee since 1984.

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