A statute intended to support Arizona golf courses could take its toll on Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course owner Wilson Gee in the first situation of its kind by requiring him to pay 10 years of back taxes on the closed course, said David Boisvert, chief appraiser for the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office.
Under the golf statute, 42-13154, land that is classified as a golf course is valued at only $500 per acre, keeping the property tax relatively low, Boisvert said. But because Gee closed the golf course in May 2013, the land was reclassified as vacant land. Gee will now owe back taxes for the last 10 years plus interest and penalties, adding up to an estimated $1.6 million, Boisvert said.
“This is the first golf course that this has happened to that I know of in Maricopa County,” Boisvert said. “There are a number of others that potentially could go down the same path, but as of right now they’re the first ones that will be receiving the penalty for taking it out of golf.”
When a tax resolution is sent to a property owner they have 95 days to pay it, even if the owner has to pay back 10 years worth of taxes, said Charlotte Stevens from the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office. Stevens said that she was unaware the statute even existed.
“We have a lot of golf courses, and the market for golf is just not like it used to be in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and early 2000s,” Boisvert said.
Gee has not received a tax bill yet, Boisvert said. Gee was taxed on the value of the land as a golf course, but needs to be re-taxed on the balance he did not pay, he said.
“The assessor would have to send us a resolution increasing the taxes,” Stevens said. “We haven’t gotten that.”
Property owners can pay the total amount in full by the end of the year, or split it into two payments, said Cathy Sanchez, who also works in the treasurer’s office. Regardless of classification, the taxes follow the land, she said.
“And that’s the reason why it’s so important that when somebody exchanges property they understand who’s going to be paying what,” Sanchez said.
Pulte Homes, a residential development company headquartered in Atlanta, is planning to purchase the land from Gee, who owns four other golf courses in Ahwatukee. Both Gee and Pulte Homes were aware of the tax statute all along, said Jacque Petroulakis, who works in corporate communications for PulteGroup Inc. in Arizona.
According to the Pulte Ahwatukee website, the company plans to build no more than 250 single-family homes on the site. The neighborhood would also include landscaped open space on 38 percent of the property and buffer zones between existing homes and the new community.
“We’re providing owners with what we believe is a much better alternative than the current site, which will only continue to decline,” Petroulakis said.
In order to proceed with the development, Pulte Homes must meet the requirements of covenants, conditions and restrictions policy, Petroulakis said. CC&Rs allow for changes to take place with a majority consent in unforeseeable situations such as this one, she said.
“We’re seeking the approval of 50 percent of Ahwatukee homeowners before we would even proceed with zoning efforts,” Petroulakis said.
Community members opposed to the new development have formed a nonprofit group called Save the Lakes Inc. The group discourages Ahwatukee homeowners from complying with Pulte’s plans, which may make it difficult for Pulte Homes to get the signatures required to go ahead with the project.
According to the Save the Lakes website, “The proposed development will affect not only those people living directly on the course, but the community as a whole.”
Petroulakis said she thinks Pulte’s development plan is the best option for the community because Gee is prepared to sell the site no matter what. If the plans go through, Pulte Homes will donate an additional $1 million to the nearby Ahwatukee Country Club, another golf course owned by Gee, to help ensure the community that Gee is committed to keeping that course operating and thriving, she said.
“I think one thing that’s important to understand is that we would not be proposing this development if the golf course was not closed, the property were not for sale, and we did not believe our plan was a better option than the current deteriorating condition of the closed golf course,” Petroulakis said.