While about a half-dozen members of Save the Lakes carried signs outside in protest Thursday morning, opponents and supporters of Ahwatukee Farms found common ground inside the venue after golf course owner True Life Companies presented its plan to the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
During the meeting, held at Mountain Park Senior Living, both groups shared a concern for people whose homes are adjacent to the course, barren since Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club closed 3¼ years ago.
“All in all, I tend to fall into the camp that it’s not likely to be a golf course again,” said Bill Mager, a 20-year resident of Ahwatukee. “If not, then what is the best use for it that would become a value add for the community?
“I think this plan has a lot of promise,” Mager added. “I enjoy the concept, but we have to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the homeowners who are adjacent to the property.”
Mager notes that those homeowners paid a lot premium. “They’ve been there years expecting to have this open space. How do you honor the commitment they made? How do you do the right thing while moving forward with this? It’s not clear,” he said.
It’s clear to Bill Israel, a Lakes-area resident.
“The only sure answer is to tear up True Life’s consent form, and just say ‘No,’” Israel said. “It’s really very simple: Why would we vote against our own best interests? We bought homes here for open space, the lakes, birds and wildlife. Instead, developers to this day have decimated the wildlife, destroyed trees and vegetation, and drained the lakes.”
“True Life is proposing plans,” Israel added. “But others yet to be determined likely will do the work. We don’t know who would build the homes. True Life is selling a concept, not a reality. The issue is much larger than a golf course. This is about open space, its value and our community deciding its destiny.”
Eddy Corona, an Ahwatukee resident since 1999, said that part of life is also being realistic as the community considers the property’s fate.
“Yes, I would love to have seen the golf course succeed, but the reality is it’s not going to happen,” Corona said. “So accepting that, and now having an opportunity to have a small say-so in what gets put in there that affects our community, that is awesome. I’m pretty excited about this concept.”
Corona was less sympathetic to adjacent property owners than some others in attendance.
“The people on the golf course, that’s a choice they made,” Corona said. “Is it harsh for them? Probably. It’s never going to be a golf course unless someone who’s got more money than sense is going to buy it for $8 million, then sink millions more to bring it up to where it’s playable. No one’s going to do that.”
Quentin Thornton, the Arizona project manager for True Life, made the presentation to about 30 in attendance at the chamber function, hosted by Mountain Park Senior Living.
He acknowledged that True Life might not be the developer of the project. Its initial job is to obtain consent to change deed restrictions that limit the property’s use to a golf course, then run it through all the necessary processes and governing bodies up to final plat acceptance by Phoenix.
At that point, True Life will determine whether to sell the property to another developer or to develop the property itself.
“We are sensitive to the fact that you can’t just redevelop something where people have been living for 30-plus years,” said Thornton, an Ahwatukee resident since 1994. “We want to minimize the impact as much as possible. That’s why we have as much green, park-like landscaping around the edges of the property as we could.”
True Life’s plan calls for a 30-foot setback on the property’s perimeter, a buffer for homes that abut the development.
The Farms, according to the current concept, would include 267 single-family residences, two lakes, a private Montessori school, community farm, farmers market, small café, hiking trails, green belts and pocket parks on the 101-acre former golf course on both sides of South 44th Street between Warner and Knox roads.
To build it, True Life must get consent to amend deed restrictions from 50 percent plus 1 of the roughly 5,200 property owners governed by the Ahwatukee Board of Management.
True Life proposes no more than three homes “per gross acre.” However, after subtracting a required 30 acres for open space, it becomes 3.8 dwelling units per developed acre.
Audience members quizzed Thornton on the proposed community’s ability to handle storm runoff from nearby mountains, given that it drops roughly 60 feet from its high point on the western edge to its low point on the eastern edge at 48th Street.
They also were concerned about increased traffic in the area from the homes, a Montessori school that might have 900 students and a farmers’ market.
Thornton said True Life received assurance from hydrology and traffic engineers that its plan would meet Phoenix standards.
There also was concern about possible bait-and-switch.
Todd Severson, True Life’s entitlement manager, said specific language in the amended deed restrictions would require building a project that resembles True Life’s Farms plan and precludes building anything fundamentally different. It also prohibits building apartments on the site.
Deviating from the amended deed restrictions would require a developer to start over with the process of getting homeowners’ consent.
“There is no opportunity to do a bait-and-switch. It’s our commitment,” Severson said. “We’ve put those restrictions on ourselves. We could ask the community for apartments, for higher-density stuff, but that’s not what we believe makes the best community, that’s not what we believe is within the fabric of the character of Ahwatukee.”
The attempt to amend deed restrictions might go on another six months, followed by filing a zoning case and preliminary plat that might take another nine months, followed by engineering work and filing of a final plat, those close to the plan estimate.
“So we couldn’t turn a shovel of dirt for at least two years,” Thornton said.
And that’s assuming there are no legal challenges.
Lakes residents Linda Swain, among the sign carriers Thursday, and Eilene Breslin are attempting to gain a permanent injunction to prohibit changing the deed restrictions. Breslin is Israel’s wife. Israel is a member of the board of directors of the Ahwatukee Board of Management.
Robert Blakesley, general manager of ABM, said the organization would not take a position on the Farms proposal.
Anne Gill, president of the Ahwatukee chamber, said her board will meet this month to discuss whether it will take a position.
“We do encourage the homeowners and True Life to engage in conversation and work together to develop a final plan that provides a solution to the Lakes Golf Course situation,” Gill said.