Matt Shearer believes he and his three fellow owners of the Club West Golf Course have gotten a bad rap.
And with the results of the Foothills Club West Association board of directors’ election due March 4, his biggest hope is that The Edge partners will get a chance to present the community the array of plans he said they’ve developed for the dead course.
“We just want the homeowners to see and evaluate all the options and solutions and we feel like there’s a group that is using various, possibly questionable, methods to make the situation where the community can only hear and evaluate what is most favorable to this small group,” Shearer said in a wide-ranging interview with AFN last week.
He said the investors have been subjected to attacks in some segments of the community “that’s painted us in a bad light.”
The Edge has not been before the community since January 2020, when it presented at an HOA meeting and subsequent open house its plan to restore the 18-hole, 160-acre course, financing it by selling three segments to a homebuilder for development.
Shearer said he and his colleagues came up with that plan for the course after they saw “a tremendous apathy in the community” and “no one was doing anything.”
“We worked with a lot of people,” Shearer said. “I’ve heard people say ‘we were blindsided’ and I’m like, ‘no we spent months working with the Save Club West business plan and their authors trying to figure out what had to be done.’
“And at the end of the day, everyone’s opinion said, ‘try to restore the golf course, you have to make it more sustainable as far as water goes’ and that led us to adapt the basic Save Club West plan.”
Save Club West emerged soon after
then-owner Wilson Gee in the summer of 2016 said he could no longer afford city potable water costs exceeding $750,000 and cut off irrigation.
With the help of several golf course and other experts, Club West resident Jim Lindstrom came up with a detailed business and architectural plan to restore the course.
But to finance the estimated $4 million needed to buy and restore the course, Lindstrom said that interested homeowners would have to step up.
Borrowing an idea utilized by residents to save the Sunland Springs Golf Course in Mesa, Lindstrom said the contribution would range from $13,333 per homeowner if only 300 participated to $8,000 apiece if 500 joined in.
Lindstrom eventually gave up, saying his biggest obstacle was general disinterest among homeowners.
Citing that indifference, Shearer said, “We thought we were as cautious and careful as possible” with The Edge’s proposal to build homes but “that kind of painted us out of the gate as developers, which we definitely are not.”
Shearer said he and his Edge partners needed a way to “reimburse ourselves for the time and investment expenses,” noting they had planned to turn the restored course’s operation to professionals because “we are not golf course operators.”
Shearer said some homeowners opposed to selling pieces of the golf course for development approached Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who in turn had a breakfast meeting with The Edge and those owners.
“Sal asked, ‘Will you work with the community on a park plan?’ and we said, ‘OK, our number one goal has been to end the apathy toward this land and we’ll see what we can come up with.’”
“We said if people want to work on a park, we said, ‘That’s no problem but we want to be clear on two things: We’re essentially starting over and a park is expensive.’ A golf course could generate revenue, a park can’t.”
Shearer said he and his partners looked at a variety of funding mechanisms because not only would the cost of creating a park be steep but so would maintaining it.
“We wanted to be clear – working on a park, we are expecting a reasonable rate of return, some kind of return to compensate us.”
He said he and his partners already had shelled out thousands of dollars that went beyond the $750,000 price they’ve agreed to pay Gee to buy the course.
Shearer said The Edge began working with a group of homeowners until some of them broke off to form the Club West Conservancy last spring.
The Conservancy is dead-set against home construction anywhere on the course, contending it will ruin the views enjoyed by the approximate 350 homeowners who paid premium prices to have their yards next to the course.
It also is suing the HOA board over its assumption of the course’s declarant rights – a key component in any process to change the use of the land. The Conservancy argues the board needed the permission of 75 percent of Club West’s 2,600 homeowners to acquire those rights.
The Conservancy has obtained a preliminary injunction that stops the board from presenting any plan by The Edge to the community. The board also interprets the injunction as preventing it from even talking to The Edge.
The Conservancy also contends that the site can be restored as a golf course and run profitably without selling any of it to homebuilders.
Both Shearer and HOA Board President Mike Hinz are skeptical of that claim.
Shearer said the emergence of the Conservancy and its lawsuit and its vocal opposition “dumbfounded” him and his partners.
“They asked us to collaborate with them on a park and we agreed. They agreed to be supportive of this community effort to work on a park. They agreed that if we did this, we had a right to expect some kind of return for three years of time and risk we put into this and then they suddenly left the table to pursue litigation,” Shearer said.
“They have actively blocked us from working with the board and they’ve actively blocked us from presenting the very plan to the community that they asked us to work with them on.”
He said he and his partners have been miscast as men preparing to rake in millions from the deal they made with Gee.
“It’ll probably be substantially less than three quarters of a million split among four people who have dedicated now coming up on three years of their life, tons of headaches, social media abuse,” he said, noting that an amendment to the declarant rights that the HOA board adopted in 2018 limits the amount of land on the site that could be sold.
Saying he and his partners expected “a very minimal return” for their investment in the course, Shearer said, “At the end of the day all we want to do is get every plan out in front of the community.”
“We want to present all the plans, including the CWC’s plan, to the community,” Shearer said. “We agree with the CWC that the community should decide.”
That decision, he said should include “a proper third-party survey of the community.”
“If we include those people who say just do nothing and the people who say just sue the owner of the golf course, then it could be negative to us. I don’t think that will happen.”
The Conservancy said about 800 homeowners responded to its own survey and that more than three-quarters of the respondents opposed houses on the golf course site.
Shearer also said “anybody in the community” is welcome to buy the course from them. We’ve never stopped looking for somebody to buy that course and restore it.”
He said one individual, whom he said he could not identify because of a nondisclosure agreement, had expressed an interest in the course.
“We said if you have a plan to restore championship golf, we will convey the land to you, support you and will transparently assure that no profits are realized by The Edge, Community Land Solutions or any of our affiliates.”
All he and his partners want, Shearer said, is “full cost recovery.”