Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course owner Wilson Gee testified Monday that he hopes to “build a better course” on the beleaguered site – but with a few conditions.
But after listening to Gee’s testimony, Superior Court Judge Theodore Campagnolo called him “not credible” and promised to impose “serious sanctions” on his company, ALCR, for not complying with a previous judge’s 2018 order to restore the course he closed in 2013.
“I find Mr. Gee to continue to be not credible,” said Campagnolo, who found ALCR in contempt of court in August for not complying with Judge John Hannah’s 2018 order to restore the 18-hole executive course.
“Judge Hannah found him not credible. I found him not credible in August. And I again find him not credible.”
Campagnolo said he would issue a written order on the sanctions, which could total millions.
The hearing was the latest episode in the long-running lawsuit that Lakes homeowners Eileen Breslin and Linda Swain filed in 2014 against a previous company, Bixby Village.
Gee was the managing partner in Bixby Village and is the managing partner in ALCR, which bought the course from Bixby.
Attorney Tim Barnes, who is representing Swain and Breslin, has asked the judge for a $2 million sanction, which would be held by the court until ALCR builds the golf course.
In urging a harsh penalty for ALCR, Barnes told Campagnolo that Gee had “persecuted the community by systematically degrading” the golf course.
He noted that Gee had dismantled the irrigation system that fed the course with non-potable water, turning it “into a moonscape.”
He also said Gee’s promise to build the course could not be trusted and said it could take longer than a year to make good on it even if all the conditions Gee outlined were met.
Gee explained the complicated deal this way: Suntereo had signed an agreement to buy 10 acres for $10 million, which would be held in escrow for construction of the course.
In the meantime, Suntereo has at least six months to secure a homeowners’ vote on its plan for the care facility and obtain the necessary zoning and other approvals from the city to build it.
Changing any use of even part of the golf course, Gee noted, requires an approval of 50 percent of the Lakes’ approximate 6,400 homeowners plus one.
Barnes also noted that Suntereo would need approval from the Maricopa County Flood Control District since the five lakes that once existed on the course had controlled runoff from South Mountain during major storms.
Gee said he offered to take former Chandler golf pro Brad Butler’s deal to buy the course for $1 million as long as he agreed that Suntereo could buy the 10 acres. He said Butler he made that offer in late October and never heard from Butler.
Gee said he had already retained the services of an internationally renowned golf course designer who agreed to design a golf course that could compete economically with other Valley courses.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – to actually build a truly great golf course with a great architect,” Gee testified.
“This is something I want to do,” he continued. “I know that there's a lot of problems with my relationship with the community and I'm sure they want me out of there.”
“But if I really had a choice, I would rather stay in the field and actually be able to build the golf course and I would invite Mrs. Swain to be part of the committee that would build it so she would know exactly what we are building. We would be very open with the community.”
Gee also disclosed that ALCR has cut a deal with the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office that would save him more than $1 million in back taxes and penalties that were assessed when the course ceased to be available for golf.
State law entitles golf course to a big property tax break but carries penalties when a course ceases to be operated for golf.
Gee said the penalties total $2.7 million, but that the Assessor’s Office cut the total owed to $1.3 – providing the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approves it. He also said the deal covers two years of back taxes, which appear to total more than $250,000.
Gee testified that the course he planned would not be the same as the one he closed but would be better.
“It needs to be something that’s economically viable or we’ll be in the same spot where we are now – not able to pay the bills,” he said, recalling how he closed the course in 2013 because it was operating in the red almost from the time that he bought it in 2006.
Barnes noted that throughout the time it would take for Suntereo to get homeowner approval and the necessary permits, nothing would be happening on the course.
Gee’s lawyer, Daniel Maynard, accused Barnes making personal attacks on Gee and insisted that the 2018 order to rebuild a golf course was unclear.
“If you impose a sanction they are asking, it’s never going to be built,” Maynard told the judge. “It has to be reasonable.”
Despite Maynard’s argument, Campagnolo declared, “all the issues about restoration (and) operation have been decided and rearguing them does not help the situation where I have to be right now.”
He also told Gee the sanctions that he will impose in a written order would give Gee “the key to avoid those sanctions” but if ALCR does not use that key, those sanctions will be imposed.”