(Source: AZCentral): Jessica Boehm – Average homeowners don’t often taken on developers in court. And when they do, they rarely win. But a group of Ahwatukee Lakes residents — angered when their neighborhood golf course devolved into an eyesore — did just that.
After nearly four years of legal jousting with two real estate companies, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge sided with the Ahwatukee Lakes neighbors.
Here’s what happened, and how the homeowners came out on top:
2006-2013: Golf course conditions deteriorate
Real-estate developer Wilson Gee purchased Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course, located in the middle of a neighborhood near Knox Road and 44th Street, through an ownership group called Bixby.
Neighbors say the 18-hole executive course fell into disrepair during Bixby’s ownership.
Although Gee denied it during a recent court hearing, neighbors and a superior court judge accused the developer of intentionally letting the property deteriorate in hopes of eventually using the property for something more lucrative.
May 2013: Golf course closes
Eventually, the ownership group drained the lakes, too, leaving a barren dirt patch in the middle of the neighborhood. Hundreds of homes back up to the golf course.
October 2013: Pulte Homes wants to buy course
Atlanta-based PulteGroup, which owns the Pulte Homes brand, confirmed it was in escrow to buy the golf course. Pulte later revealed plans to build single-family homes on the land, about three per acre.
Neighbors, already miffed about the closed golf course, rallied together to oppose the project and preserve the open space.
They formed a group called Save The Lakes to protest the Pulte deal and fight for restoration of the golf course.
October 2014: Neighbors file lawsuit
They also accused the ownership group of acting in bad faith for closing the golf course more than a year earlier.
November 2014: Pulte backs out
The neighbors scored their first win when Pulte pulled out of talks to purchase Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.
Pulte spokeswoman Jacque Petroulakis attributed the company’s decision to withdraw to an inability to come to final terms with the seller, not opposition from neighbors.
“As we continue to believe that redevelopment of this property offers tremendous opportunities for adjacent neighbors and the broader community, we could consider reopening discussions in the future,” Petroulakis said in a written statement.
June 2015: New owner, same problems
The True Life Companies purchased the golf course for $9 million. It paid $750,000 up front, with the rest due to Bixby over time.
The neighbors roped True Life into their lawsuit, arguing that it was now responsible for maintaining the golf course on the property, under the governing documents.
June 2016: First legal victory
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah ruled that the governing documents require the property to be maintained as a golf course.
The only two ways to change that: Get 51 percent of homeowners on board, or appeal to the Superior Court and prove a “material change in conditions or circumstances” that make it unrealistic to operate a course on the land.
August 2016: ‘Ahwatukee Farms’ pitched to neighbors
True Life pitched a 100-acre residential development to replace the golf course and began circulating petitions to change the property’s governing documents.
Plans for Ahwatukee Farms included a maximum of three houses per gross acre across the entire property. Promotional materials highlighted “thoughtfully crafted homes” and “elegant boulevards.”
The plan called for a trail system, lakes, a school and a cafe — but no golf course.
True Life convinced a couple thousand homeowners of their vision, but ultimately fell about 1,500 signatures short.
When its attempt to win over homeowners didn’t go as planned, the owners claimed that golf was no longer profitable, and the years-long deterioration of the golf course made it so that “there was no longer a realistic possibility that a stand-alone golf course could ever operate on the property.”
Hannah agreed to hear True Life’s arguments in court.
January 2018: Judge delivers total victory
Hannah wrote that True Life purchased the neglected property with full knowledge that the governing documents required it be maintained as a golf course.
“In order to make millions for themselves, they destroyed the landscape, blighted our neighborhoods, divided our community, undercut the value of our homes — and then blamed the victims,” co-plaintiff Linda Swain said in a statement.
The other plaintiff, Eileen Breslin said some of the homeowners burdened by the developers’ decisions include elderly women living alone who invested their entire savings to purchase homes along the golf course to “ensure a quiet, secure retirement.”
“Instead, they’ve been rolled by developers and shut out by the Ahwatukee Board of
Management, which nevertheless took their annual fees. Who was to speak for these women, if we did not? Who will speak for us, if the time comes again?” Breslin said in a statement.