Steve Bardson

Agritopia lead designer Steve Bardson

Although he played down its influence on his company’s design, a True Life Companies official acknowledged last week that the proposed Ahwatukee Farms may remind some people of Agritopia in Gilbert.

David N. Sabow, managing director for True Life’s Arizona operations, said that while Ahwatukee Farms may bear some similarities to Agritopia, his company’s plan differs substantially from the Gilbert community.

But the Ahwatukee resident who was Agritopia’s lead designer thinks True Life would win more support from residents if it modeled Ahwatukee Farms more closely after the Gilbert urban-agriculture development.

Barduson’s Agritopia concept was Arizona’s first major urban-agriculture master-planned community and is recognized as ground breaking 16 years later. Publications worldwide still hold it up as the model for other urban-ag communities as the development style continues to gain popularity.

His initial thoughts when True Life rolled out the Farms plan last week?

“In my own backyard? Really? In my own backyard they’re going to do this?” said Barduson, whose home of 23 years is less than a mile from the former golf course.

“I was excited that somebody was willing to invest that much effort in Ahwatukee, but I have no idea how the community is going to receive it without golf (as a component).”

Barduson, 55, earned his architectural degree from Arizona State and a master’s in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He left the seminary “on sabbatical” 22 years ago to return to architecture.

Because of his connections, many of his designs have been for churches. They include both the old Mountain Park Community Church at 24th Street and Pecos Road – to be razed to make way for the South Mountain Freeway – and the new, replacement church, under construction at 48th Street and Frye Road.

Barduson won the competition to design what became Agritopia because owner Joe Johnston embraced his plan for getting people out of their back yards and onto their front porches in an effort to break down as many barriers as possible among neighbors.

Integrating community-ag into the plan was essential. The area already was rich in farming and the Johnston family was among those heavily rooted in agriculture.

Barduson hopes his background and skills might help Ahwatukee and True Life reach an accord on the next use of the former Lakes property. He said friends have reached out to him for guidance.

“I do so much work trying to bring community consensus and developing community,” he said.

“I want to be able to help as many of my friends as I can – and other people, as well – to make an informed judgment instead of rushing. Obviously, as a result of my connection with Agritopia, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about it.”

Barduson surmises that the farther away people are from the project, the more they will like it. Those nearby – not so much.

“There seem to be two initial reactions. First: ‘It’s a great start, but we don’t trust the big, bad developer.’

“The other reaction is, ‘No, no no! It’s not a golf course,’” he said.

“I want the community to look a little more deeply into it as we get more information, instead of making snap decisions.

“Let’s have engaged discussion instead of relying on social-media tweets,” he adds.

Barduson said he would prefer that the property remain a golf course.

“If it can’t be a golf course, let’s do it really, really well and not just do a poor project,” he said.

Barduson believes there still might be others with similar interest if the property were available, but for considerably less than what True Life paid, which was “at least three times the next-highest offer, from what I was told,” he said.

Public records show that True Life paid $8.25 million for the Lakes course.

“Ít would take creativity,” Barduson said. “It would take an Agritopia version of a golf course development to make it appealing enough to be sustainable and amenable to the Save the Lakes community, and I don’t think that’s possible with the price was paid.”

The community should, instead, probably focus on creative projects for the next version of Ahwatukee, Barduson added, saying that would be “infill and repurposing properties.”

“My words to the developer would be that it should still be a golf course and, if that cannot happen, then I applaud their initial efforts,” Barduson said. “I’m still a golfer, and I feel bad for the people who bought into it.

Highlights of Ahwatukee Farms Plan

This summary of main points in the Ahwatukee Farms plan also represents the changes that the True Life Companies, owner of Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club, says would be made to existing conditions, covenants and regulations (CC&Rs). The company wants homeowners to permit those changes and needs just over half of the approximate 5,200 owners to agree.

  • Community-supported agriculture and new Desert Garden Montessori school campus featured on 10 acres along the western side of South 44th Street between Warner and Knox roads.

  • Only commercial activity would be a farmer’s market and a café.

  • Minimum of 30 percent of the 103-acre site would be dedicated to open space, including two lakes and a trail system.

  • No multi-family units/apartments on property.

  • Upscale single-level and two-story homes, three to the acre, that would create less density and greater value than current surrounding homes.

  • Extensive civil-engineering report on hydrology and flood control.

Frequently asked questions are available on True Life’s website, www.Ahwatukee


Source: True Life Companies


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