(Source: AhwatukeeFoothillsNews): Paul Maryniak – The acrimonious fight over the future of the defunct Ahwatukee golf course, Ahwatukee Lakes, finally returns to court next Tuesday, Oct. 24, for a 21/2‑day civil trial that may decide its fate.
The non-jury trial before state Superior Court Judge John R. Hannah comes 15 months after he ruled that deed restrictions enacted two decades ago require the operation of a golf course on the 101-acre site.
But those covenants, conditions and restrictions are themselves now on trial after The True Life Companies, which owns the course, asked Hannah to rule that those land-use regulations have materially changed and that playing golf there is no longer an option.
The trial also comes after True Life led an aggressive campaign to get 451 percent of Ahwatukee Lakes’ approximate 5,400 homeowners to agree to changing the CC&Rs in order to pave the way for an “agrihood.”
Calling its proposal for the course Ahwatukee Farms, it wants to build approximate 270 single and duplex homes and townhouses, a five-acre farm, a private school, cafe and recreation paths on the course, which was closed in 2013 and has deteriorated into a weed-covered, barren swatch of land that once commanded premium lot prices from homeowners eager to live on the perimeter of a golf course.
On the other side of the courtroom, two residents are asking Hannah for an injunction that would enforce his July 2016 ruling and require True Life to build a course.
Both sides have posited vastly different estimates on the cost of restoring the site, with True Life saying it would cost at least $14 million – more than three times the general estimates given by experts lined by Save the Lakes at a community forum. Save the Lakes comprises homeowners who want the golf course back.
Aidan Barry, True Life senior vice president, said earlier this year, “Nobody is going to spend the necessary money to try to operate a stand-alone golf course on the property when it will fail again economically.”
In recent months, both sides in the case have declined comment and have been keeping out of the public spotlight.
That posture contrasts sharply to a year ago, when True Life was canvassing Ahwatukee Lakes in search of signatures on consent cards to change the CC&Rs and Save the Lakes was packing the Ahwatukee Recreation Center with homeowners eager to see that effort fail.
One of the last public statements from Save the Lakes came after True Life submitted its request to Hannah to rule that the CC&Rs requiring a golf course were not enforceable.
“The point of the developer’s latest pleading seems to be to ask the judge to reverse himself because of what True Life’s attorneys now claim to be a ‘material change in….circumstances,’” said a statement from the group.
“Since they’ve also failed to earn our community’s support,” it added, “True Life now looks to be asking the judge to rule against the community and change the CC&Rs because the developers claim it will cost them too much to re-construct the golf course that the judge ordered be operated.”
Barry condemned the statement.
“Clearly, Save the Lakes continues to make up false information wherever possible to suit their goal of stopping our proposed project,” he said, adding that his company “does not believe any reasonable owner/investor of the property would or could operate a stand-alone golf course on the property.”
“Thus, given the status of the property (as a failed business and a closed golf course), the original purpose of the restriction cannot be realized,” he added. “Thus, the CC&Rs need to be modified.”
Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said:
“We’re grateful for the signs that True Life appears to be reaching the true end of the road…Most of all, we’re grateful that our community saw through True Life and its plan, which would produce more traffic jams, overcrowding and more potential for flooding – instead of a renewed golf course and open space.”
Although they’ve been quiet publicly, both sides have been busy preparing for the trial.
Hannah issued a series of orders earlier this year setting out a detailed schedule for deposing expert witnesses and addressing other matters so that the trial would not drag on for weeks or even months.
The judge is not expected to have a decision for at least a few weeks – and possibly months – since attorney Timothy Barnes, who is representing Swain and Breslin, has asked the judge to include a finding of fact along with his verdict. That basically means the judge will file a detailed explanation for his decision.