Homeowners take over golf course

March 30, 2009 7:34:04 PM PDT
There is new meaning to the phrase pay to play. People living in a golf course community near Sacramento have suddenly found themselves in a predicament. Instead of carefree days roaming the fairways, there are now new responsibilities.

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If a golf course can provide a lesson in real estate risk, then Wild Wings in Woodland might be the one.

"It's fairly wide. Not overly complicated," said resident Scott Picanso.

As Scott Picanso and Lance Kolesar roll down the fairways, you might notice that they are alone and that the course has grown rough around its edges with tall weeds.

"We were buying into a golf course community that was golf cart friendly," said resident Lace Kolesar.

This is a cautionary tale, one of burst bubbles in a community where some homes sold for a million dollars and values have dropped by half. It is now a neighborhood riddled with foreclosures, and that was before their main source of prestige -- the golf course -- went out of business.

"It was not profitable to the tune of a little over a million dollars or so over the past three years of operation," said Bill Baron, developer from Brandenberg Properties.

For Baron, the problem came from high water prices and an expensive treatment plant that uses the golf course for filtration. Eventually, he gave 90 acres back to the homeowners, forcing them to make a decision. If they kept the land as a golf course, they would have to invest in it, or else.

"You would go from a golf course community, which is pretty elite, to just open fields with weeds," said Kolesar.

Some residents, like Jordan Durban and her husband Greg, never saw the value in having a golf course home.

"I regard this as 90 acres of land that could be used for solar panels, it could be used for a park, for recreational activities," said Jordan Duban.

Ultimately, 340 households made a decision at the ballot box and showed surprising support. The measure required a two-thirds vote, and it got 76-percent. In economic times like this, residents will pay $1,700 per year more to keep this a golf course.

"At least now with this property we have it, it's under control, and we have options," said Picanso.

Since passage, residents have hired a golf course management company. They have pledged several hundred thousand dollars for improvements. They knew the risk that if Wild Wings failed once, it could fail again, but there was an upside.

"Do you think this facility will add to the values of these homes, eventually?" asked ABC7's Wayne Freedman.
"Eventually. That has been the case all over the country," said Rich Cessna, from Kemper Sports.

And so, this novel experiment. In a real estate market tossed upside down, here is one community that has stuck with an identity, and chosen to fight for it.

"I think we have to be pro-active. We want to be ahead of the game. I guess the biggest key is, when the housing market does change, we want to be competitive," said Picanso.

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