August 15, 2016
The Republic | azcentral.com
A shuttered Ahwatukee golf course would be redeveloped with houses, a community farm and a Montessori school, under a new vision for more than 100 acres of contested land in the Phoenix neighborhood.
Developers have begun their pitch for Ahwatukee Farms, a redevelopment of the former Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club. The site has been at the center of a land-use battle since the course closed in 2013.
Nearby homeowners saw green fairways go brown and their backyard views turn to blight. The True Life Companies, a real-estate investment business that bought the closed course more than a year and a half ago, has since developed a plan for the land.
To pursue the project, the company will first have to persuade homeowners to change the private covenants, conditions and restrictions that limit the land to uses related to golf. Some residents are organizing against that change.
Cafe, parks and houses but no golf
Ahwatukee Farms would provide a community asset on land where a golf course is no longer a viable business, Sabow said.
Plans include a maximum of three houses per gross acre across the entire property, he said. Promotional materials highlight “thoughtfully crafted homes” and “elegant boulevards.”
As envisioned, a trail system would run throughout the site. Houses would border pocket parks and lakes.
A school campus is also slated for the land, Sabow said. The Desert Garden Montessori School contacted the company about the property, he said, and would incorporate the project’s agriculture concept into its curriculum.
Renderings show a community farm near the school that would support a membership-based, community-supported agriculture program, Sabow said. A cafe would act as a gathering place for residents, he said.
“We’re looking to welcome the community into this project,” Sabow said.
What won’t be included in the new concept is golf. Sabow called incorporation of the sport a “futile effort.”
Now, the company will seek consent forms from more than half of 5,200 or so members of the Ahwatukee Board of Management to change the site's land restrictions. The nearby Ahwatukee Country Club course falls under the same set of restrictions but wouldn't be given the new allowances, Sabow said.
That permission must come before any official filings with the city of Phoenix. Those go through a separate approval process, Sabow said.
“Without the community’s support, we realize we’ll never be successful in getting this developed,” he said.
Councilman: 'I'm telling people not to sign anything'
However, some neighbors who want to see Ahwatukee Lakes reopened said they’re warning neighbors about the consequences of changing the land restrictions.
Linda Swain, who had a house built on the course more than three decades ago, said signing the requested form would give the developers a “blank check.” The proposed changes include specific restrictions on factors like the type of development and amount of open space, but they don’t guarantee the project will look like the renderings.
“So many people just look at the pretty picture,” Swain said.
Other concerns about building on the course include increased traffic and housing density, Swain said. She questioned how a new development would ensure flood control; Ahwatukee Lakes was designed to retain water.
The proposed plans follow several years of controversy about the future of the property. Pulte Homes previously proposed building housing there, but later scrapped the idea.
The closed course has been called an eyesore and has faced multiple code violations with the city. Sabow said it currently is in compliance. This year, a vacant clubhouse burned on the site.
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge recently ruled, in a lawsuit filed by Swain and another Ahwatukee homeowner, that private land restrictions require the Ahwatukee Lakes property to operate as a golf course. Sabow said the decision is only an initial step in a long legal process.
Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who represents the area, called the company a "bad neighbor" and said approving the project could set a risky precedent. He said the proposal is one of many examples of developers that leave closed courses poorly maintained to “exact concessions.”
“I’m telling people not to sign anything right now,” DiCiccio said.