Judge upholds CC&Rs that protect Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course

Judge upholds CC&Rs that protect Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course

Golf Course ruling stops developers, affirms homeowners and neighbors

For Immediate Release

Thursday, Jan. 4, 2017

Plaintiffs in the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course case and the president of Save the Lakes/Save Open Spaces Thursday saluted the ruling by Judge John Hannah as a victory for homeowners, a warning to developers who undercut homeowner protections – and a first step in restoring the golf course and its neighborhoods.

Judge Hannah ruled Jan. 2 that “TTLC (The True Life Companies) knowingly and voluntarily purchased the Lakes Golf Course with the contractual obligation to operate a golf course on it” but tried to put up a housing project instead. As a result, Hannah wrote, “TTLC has breached its covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” The judge denied TTLC’s request to change that obligation, then reserved special attention for Bixby, the company which sold the course, headed by Wilson Gee.

The judge wrote, “Not later than 2008, Mr. Gee in fact began making efforts (himself) to redevelop the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course. In the fall of 2008, Mr. Gee met with the Ahwatukee Board of Management” to initiate that discussion, even though “There was no evidence that the golf course could not have been operated profitably in 2008.”

Five years later, Gee “shut down the well that supplied water to the lakes, depleting the water needed for irrigation.” Gee’s company, Bixby, “removed all but obsolete irrigation heads and shut off all power to the site including the clubhouse. The site, therefore, had not had any water or electricity since May of 2013.” The result, Hannah said at trial, turned the lush green golf course into a desolate “moonscape.” In buying the property, TTLC acquired free rights to 500 acre feet a year of water to irrigate the golf course, but didn’t even investigate how to turn on the electricity to deliver it, Hannah wrote.

The result has been a catastrophe for fish, wildlife, birds, vegetation, and community life.

Hannah concluded, “The inequitable conduct of (Gee’s company), which largely created the alleged hardship to the property owner, also cuts against equitable relief for (TTLC). At the very least, TTLC had reason to know that Bixby’s actions substantially contributed to the conditions that made restoration of the golf course economically unfeasible. (Gee’s company), not TTLC, will bear most of the economic burden if the transaction fails. That result, frankly, will not be unfair.”

In contrast, the winning plaintiffs in the case hailed Judge Hannah’s decision as eminently fair.

Co-plaintiff Linda Swain said: “Judge Hannah ruled that as a matter of law, we are entitled to an injunction to undo the damage to our community caused by developers over 10 years’ time. 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 Eileen Breslin said: “The victims include elderly women alone, some getting around with walkers or canes, who invested their life savings in homes along the Ahwatukee Lakes 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?”

Ben Holt, president of Save the Lakes/Save Open Space, said: “Developer True Life told us that golf is dead, yet they continue to invest millions in golf properties. In the course of testimony, it became clear that three to four buyers have expressed interest in purchasing and operating the Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course.

“On behalf of Save the Lakes/Save Open Spaces, we thank Judge Hannah for his ruling. We especially thank our outstanding legal team led by Tim Barnes; the membership of STL/SOS, and the majority of the Ahwatukee community who generously supported our effort — and refused to permit not one but three different developers to roll us over. This was a community-wide effort. The victory belongs to the thousands of people who supported us. We anticipate seeking damages to properly restore the golf course and its neighborhoods.

“Finally, we owe an enormous thank you to Linda Swain and Eileen Breslin, who endured insults, abuse, threats and recrimination for standing up to big money developers and those who supported them. By their example, Linda and Eileen embody the definition of hero. We, and the entire Village of Ahwatukee, owe them a tremendous debt. “We look forward to this decision helping us to renew our landscape and heal the scars in our community from this conflict.”