Clash closes Arlington golf course

ARLINGTON – Like a high drive from the tee on a gusty day, the future of Gleneagle Golf Course is up in the air, and it’s hard to say where it will land.

A representative of the golf course owners said Monday that they plan to close Gleneagle and redesign the holes into a shorter “executive” course to make room for what could be almost 400 new homes.

The owners hope the changes will revive the struggling golf course business.

“The golf course is closed until further notice,” according to Gleneagle’s answering machine message Monday. Residents of the upscale golf-course neighborhood who oppose the idea say shrinking the course is not likely to happen. The development’s original contract makes that difficult, if not impossible, they say.

According to a short fax from Woodland Ridge Joint Venture, which owns the course, plans include reconfiguring the course to fit in as many as 375 new lots.

George Brown of Woodland Ridge turned down a request from The Herald for a phone interview, preferring to answer questions via e-mail.

“I don’t know that we will build all 375 lots that are allowed under our rezone contract, but at this point we are looking at fitting in as many as possible,” Brown wrote.

“They will be where the existing driving range is located, along some of the existing fairways and in areas around the tees and greens.”

Brown wrote that the course would still have 18 holes but would be shorter. Gleneagle is a par-70 course, while executive courses typically have pars between 54 and 66.

A legal complaint dated Oct. 31 against Woodland Ridge Joint Ventures by lawyers for the development’s homeowners association describes a more modest plan:

“The defendants, by and through George H. Brown … have given notice to plaintiff (Jack) Shouman, the president of the homeowners association, that the defendants intend to close the golf course on Nov. 5, 2005, together with the pro shop, driving range and restaurant unless the homeowners association consents to the construction of 12 additional homes along the 18th fairway and 37 new homes in place of the driving range and the homeowners association agrees to purchase the golf course,” according to the complaint in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Brown did not indicate whether he had an asking price for the golf course. In an e-mail interview in February, Brown told The Herald he had differed with Shouman about Gleneagle’s worth. Using the Mill Creek course as an example, Brown said that course was worth $6.5 million.

At the time, Shouman said he told Brown that some people felt Gleneagle was worth more like $2.5 million.

Shouman said Brown is trying to renege on the original contract and master plan from 1991.

“He was trying to force us into an ultimatum that just was not good for our community,” Shouman said.

The issue is the latest skirmish in an off-and-on legal battle between Brown and the homeowners board, of which Brown lost majority control in 2002.

The dispute was so vexing that Gleneagle resident Jason Davis started a focus group 18 months ago to look into the issue.

Davis said the main problem with Brown’s plan is language in the 1991 contract that requires any changes to be approved by the Arlington City Council.

“Mr. Brown can’t go down there today and get a rezone and that’s the reason he hasn’t done it,” Davis said. “If he could do it, he would have done it … He talks about plans; well, I plan on owning a Lear jet someday.”

City Councilman Dan Anderson, who lives on the 12th fairway, agreed with Davis’ reading of the contract. He opposes changing the course and said he doubts others on the council feel differently.

“I cannot imagine why the city of Arlington would want to embrace what (Brown) is asking,” Anderson said.

When asked via e-mail about the contract language requiring council approval, Brown responded: “The city must honor its contract as much as any private party. Our land-use attorneys have advised us we have the right to build up to 1,400 lots in Gleneagle.”

The development now has more than 1,000 lots and is Arlington’s largest.

Davis and Anderson each said they opposed shrinking the course because of how it would affect property values.

“Being on the fairway is worth about $50,000” on top of a home’s asking price, Anderson said.

Brown wrote that their fears are unfounded.

“Property values will continue to rise in Gleneagle along with the market in general no matter how many additional homes go in,” Brown wrote.

The alternative, he wrote, is that the golf course, which has struggled financially, could go under. The changes should save it, he said.

Davis doubted that, wondering if a smaller, tighter course would do any better.

Shouman sounded weary of the legal battles.

“Gosh, we’ve been fighting George for so many years,” Shouman said. “It would just be nice to live in a community where we can find some peace and harmony.”

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@heraldnet.com.

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