Debate over Agrihood vs. restoration of Ahwatukee golf course (AZ)

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

organic farm

In one large-scale homeowners association in Arizona’s desert, there’s a contentious debate over whether or not the defunct Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course and Country Club can be redeveloped as an Agrihood.

An Agrihood is a planned community centered around a working farm with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Property owners would be encouraged to participate in the CSA, and, in return, would have access to fresh and local foods produced on the farm.

A community concept for the proposed Ahwatukee Farms, as explained on a website created by developers, True Life Companies, who purchased the golf course from Wilson Gee.

Here’s an excerpt of True Life’s vision for the CSA:

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a critical component to Ahwatukee Farms, it fosters and enriches relationships while bringing people together around an essential part of our daily lives – food.

Residents will have the opportunity to become a member of the farm through the CSA program. CSA is a model of farming that strengthens the local food system by tying those who grow food to those who eat it. Being a member of the CSA farm and purchasing a “share” at the beginning of the growing season, residents fund the operating expenses of the farm operation, and receive a share of fresh produce each week throughout the growing season. Members visit the farm to pick up their weekly share and engage with the farm, the farmers, and other members.

The promotional website also touts the construction of 300 homes, a Monetessori school, a community center with a farm-to-table cafe, and a walking/bike trail surrounding the community to be built on land formerly occupied by the golf course.


The controversy

However, a group of owners who purchased their homes specifically because of the once-renowned golf course want to see the golf course and country club restored to its former glory. Two homeowners have filed suit against former owner Wilson Gee, accusing the real estate investor of intentionally neglecting the golf course so he could turn around and sell the land to a developer – True Life Companies – for a profit. The lawsuit also argues that the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) for Ahwatukee stipulate that the land now owned by True Life Companies must always remain a golf course.

Gee says that the golf business at Ahwatukee was no longer profitable, citing the high cost of irrigation and upkeep, combined with waning interest in the sport and declining membership.

True Life Companies must acquire written consent of 51% of all Ahwatukee owners (reportedly 5,600 homes) to proceed with rezoning the golf course for development, before they can proceed with creating an Agrihood.

Owners who wish to bring back the golf course – now nothing more than desert sand – have started a group called Save the Lakes. The group includes the original developer and local golf association members. They claim that the Lakes was originally designed to handle storm water runoff and prevent flooding, and cite concerns that developing the area will impact flood control and traffic in Ahwatukee. Save the Lakes is urging property owners to sign a petition blocking any amendments to the CC&Rs, in order to ensure the land remains open space to be used as a golf course.

True Life claims its Agrihood plan would address flood control and create a more environmentally sustainable model for the future.

Here are two recent articles highlighting the controversy.

Golf town hall’ speakers rip Ahwatukee Farms proposal

Posted: Friday, November 18, 2016 3:15 pm | Updated: 3:16 pm, Tue Nov 29, 2016.
By Paul Maryniak, AFN Executive Editor
More than 300 people packed the Ahwatukee Recreation Center Thursday to hear eight development and golfing experts decry the Ahwatukee Farms plan as a threat to their quality of life.
Organized by Save the Lakes, the “golf town hall” panel focused on True Life Companies’ proposal to replace the defunct 101-acre course at Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club with an “agrihood.”
“We were creating a lifestyle that’s good and safe and healthy for you. Don’t let something happen that will interfere with your lifestyle,” said Wayne Smith, who designed Ahwatukee’s original master plan.

Read more:


Residents can grill True Life about Ahwatukee Farms next week

The True Life Companies’ Team, Special to the Tribune
Posted: Friday, December 2, 2016 6:00 am
AFN News Staff
The owner of the defunct golf course at Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club has scheduled its own public forum to give residents a chance to grill its experts on its proposed “agrihood” for the 101-acre site.
True Life Companies will have six to eight stations devoted to specific aspects of the plan during the meeting at 5 p.m. Dec. 7 in Mountain Pointe High School cafeteria, 4201 E. Knox Road, Ahwatukee.
Attendees “can have a dialogue with experts and ask questions about specific parts of the vision for Ahwatukee Farms and the process to make it a reality,” spokesman Drew Sexton said. “Residents can spend as much time at each station as they would like and learn more from these experts.”

Read more:

Property does not have rights People do

Proof that deed restrictions, CC&Rs, and HOAs cause more problems than they solve

Ahwatukee’ land use battle is a problem 40 years in the making. Ironically, before the golf course and homes were built, the land was used for agriculture! Then developers and the local government devised zoning requirements and CC&Rs limiting use of open space exclusively for golf.

Basically, about 4 decades ago, it was decided that the land could be used for only one type of business, and that homes would be built to surround a golf course. At the time, this was a profitable business model for the developer and home builders. And it worked when the golf industry was in its prime.

Did no one ever stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, golf would not remain popular for ever? Did no one ever consider the impracticality of creating a green oasis in the middle of the desert? Did no one ever stop and think about what might happen in the future, and how it might affect adjacent homeowners?

Apparently not. Or maybe reality was conveniently ignored.

Because now Ahwatukee is about to repeat its mistakes. Only this time, a planned development will consist of a farm. Is it practical to place homes adjacent to a working farm? Won’t there be noise from heavy equipment, the smell of fertilizer, and the hustle and bustle of school children on the grounds of the community based farm?

Looking at the development plan, it doesn’t seem as though there’s much of a buffer to avoid disturbance of quiet enjoyment for some adjacent homeowners.

Is the Agrihood just another fad that will fall out of favor in a decade or two, just as golf communities have fallen out of favor since the 1980s and 1990s?

Will enough homeowners and residents support Ahwatukee Farms by participating in the CSA? What happens if the farm has a bad year or several years, plagued by drought (it is in a desert) or pests? What if homeowners balk at paying into the CSA, and decide they would rather obtain their food from other local farms or the large grocery chains?

Who will own the farmland? That part is unclear. Will it be owned collectively by owners as part of the HOA? Will it be owned by a separate non-profit, with land leased to private farmers? Will the cafe be a for-profit entity? What voting interests, rights, and privileges will be bestowed upon the agricultural and commercial portions of this mixed use development, and how might that affect the private property rights of homeowners? Or will the bulk of homes surrounding Ahwatukee farms be part of a condominium association? If so, there won’t be any privately owned property – just collectively owned property as in every other condo association.

In another 20-40 years, will a new land use controversy present itself, as the 40+ year old homes in Ahwatukee – and its common infrastructure – deteriorate to the point where it may be more economical to redevelop than maintain and repair?

Back in the day when private land ownership was encouraged – and the norm – a property owner did not have to be concerned about losing all of his or her private property rights to the tyranny of the majority.

And, of course, that’s exactly what will happen at Ahwatukee. A slim majority of property owners will determine the fate and future lifestyle of nearly half of its current homeowners. Many of those owners have already lost equity as property values have fallen. This is despite the industry’s claim that HOAs protect and enhance property values.

Nope, not true at all.

When you restrict use of private property and attempt to force the concept of collective land ownership, it ultimately devalues property, because it limits the rights of owners and residents. Moreover, creating “communities” around the theme du jour segments humanity by special interest groups and socio-economic class.

In the end, Ahwatukee is the story of running private farmers off of their land so that developers and local governments could reap short term benefits, only to later propose a combination HOA/community farm on the very same land.

Who really benefits?

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