The lawyer for two Ahwatukee Lakes homeowners last week urged a judge to impose financial sanctions on golf course owner ALCR to pay for a special master to ensure that another judge’s order to restore the 101-acre site was properly followed.
Attorney Tim Barnes told Superior Court Judge Sara Agne in a brief that ALCR and principal Wilson Gee’s strategy has been to “tiptoe, dodge, ignore and obscure” an order to restore the 18-hole executive course and “undercut the rulings of this court and the rights of the benefitted persons” – namely homeowners.
“The evidence shows the plan in operation remains Wilson Gee’s plan to ultimately find a path to development, first outlined in 2008, and to tiptoe around court; and when stopped, preserve the possibility for later development. The will and rights of benefitted persons be damned,” Barnes wrote in his closing argument to Agne.
Barnes wants Agne to find ALCR in violation of the at least the first of three deadlines set last November by Superior Court Judge Theodore Campagnolo after he found Gee in contempt of court for failing to follow another judge’s 2018 order to restore the course.
Gee closed the course in 2013, saying it never made a profit in any year since he bought it in 2006. In 2014, residents Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin sued Gee, setting off the seven-year legal battle.
Campagnolo imposed three deadlines in his contempt ruling along with penalties for failing to meet them: Gee had to complete a design for restoration by May 2021 or pay $500,000 and then another $1 million if work did not begin by September 2021 and another $2 million if the course was not open for play by next September.
Gee and his top aide, Terry Duggan have testified that nine holes will be open by the end of this month.
Barnes’ brief will be followed by a written closing from ALCR attorney Daniel Maynard by Nov. 12. Barnes will then have the final say by submitting a rebuttal.
Barnes ripped ALCR on numerous points of its restoration, starting with its failure to submit a detailed plan for the course’s revival and a budget showing it would be spending $794,787 – far less than the $5 million to $6 million or $12 million that two golf course experts have testified a full restoration would cost.
“A glance at the ALCR budget reflects ALCR’s assertion it was following a written restoration plan is nothing more than a poor attempt to mislead the Court,” Barnes stated.
In a related filing to counter Maynard’s request that Agne not consider those two estimates because he had not had the chance to cross-examine the experts and because “conditions had changed,” Barnes wrote:
“As to the conditions changing, the only change is that the golf course has continued to dissipate over four more years. If anything, the cost of restoration might have gone up, certainly not down.”
In his closing brief, Barnes briefly recounted Gee’s handling of the course and how he had wanted to sell it to a home builder at a significant profit.
“Mr. Gee’s plan literally devastated the golf course, drained the lakes, destroyed hundreds of trees, wildlife, birds, flora and fish; and reduced the value of neighboring homes in which older persons had invested to ensure a secure retirement,” Barnes wrote.
“Plaintiffs and benefitted persons are now entitled to the imposition of sanctions which can be used for…the appointment of a special master to force the golf course restoration to the required standard,” he added.
He characterized ALCR’s budget as “a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants plan” with “no directions to be followed or specifications (precise or otherwise) to be met” and said it would not restore “the utterly desecrated property that was once the jewel golf course on which the Arizona Golf Association held its annual Short Course Championships.”
“ALCR’s plan is to simply grow grass on the golf course and call it restored without any preparatory work to address the deteriorated condition of the golf course surface,” Barnes also wrote.
He ripped key aspects of the restoration work that both Gee and Duggan had discussed on the witness stand in three days of testimony before Agne.
Those aspects included Gee’s plan to use the other nine holes that won’t open till next year for part-time use as a golf academy for young people and others new to the game. Barnes noted ALCR had no experience in running a golf academy.
Barnes also ripped ALCR’s failure to fill all the lakes on the site, its plan to use basically a construction trailer as a clubhouse, its failure to restore bunkers and its intention to not rent golf karts.
All these matters, Barnes said, reflect Gee’s intention to keep use of the course low so that he can sell it to a home builder down the road.
“In fact, there is simply no reasonable comparison between what ALCR is intending to spend on restoring the golf course and what, at trial, the golf course restoration experts testified would be necessary to restore the golf course,” Barnes wrote.