In the Rough at the AACC
While lawyers fight over its future, a suburban golf course goes back to nature.
by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds
From the September, 2017 issue
The Ann Arbor Country Club lies at the center of Loch Alpine, a subdivision of more than 400 homes off Huron River Dr. Both neighborhood and course were the vision of Dexter industrialist Ward Blakely, who in 1925 bought 470 acres on what was then a crude buggy trail between Delhi and Dexter. He dammed a creek to form lakes, built roads (including Huron River Dr.), and installed a water and sewer system. The course's front nine opened in 1928, the back nine in 1931.
By then the Great Depression had killed housing construction. Though the golf course survived, no homes were built until the 1950s-when, fatefully, the ownership of the club was separated from the residential lots. In the early 2000s, an ill-timed renovation left the club in debt; it defaulted on its mortgage in 2010, and the note was purchased by West Virginia oncologist Lew Whaley, a friend of a club member.
Last year, Whaley told the Observer that he poured "between $300,000 and $600,000 a year" into the club before he closed it in November 2015. He then requested approval from the homeowners' group, the Loch Alpine Improvement Association, for two different plans to build homes on the former course. When they were rejected, he sued. LAIA countersued, saying Whaley's neglect of the course was harming residents.
LAIA president Peter Logan says the group's "board and our attorneys agreed not to discuss the case while it's in litigation." Whaley recently retired from his medical practice and could not be reached. But court records indicate that the case is likely to hinge on a deed restriction that dates back to Blakely's day, and a 1975 "restriction agreement" between the LAIA and the club. The deed restriction states: "No use shall be made of the Golf Lots other than the operation of private or semi-public golf course"-but also says that "a golf course shall be the only use alternative to residential use" of those lots.
Whaley's lawsuit argues that last phrase establishes a right to build homes on the golf course property. LAIA responds that he can't change the use without its permission, adding that the "1975 Restriction Agreement provides that the Golf Lots will be operated only as a private or semi-private golf course or used for park and recreational purposes."
When spring arrived, "for sale" signs bloomed throughout Loch Alpine- although not necessarily because of the golf course situation. "This is a sellers' market. Inventory is in very short supply," observes Realtor Cindy Glahn, who is affiliated with Real Estate One. "I know that some people have asked about the pending lawsuit in Loch Alpine, but I don't know that the lawsuit has deterred anyone from buying there."
"I've only had one couple in Loch Alpine who was motivated to sell when they heard what was happening with the golf course," says Realtor Christine Fitzsimons of Howard Hanna. "Their house sold almost immediately, for full price."
Fitzsimons lives in Loch Alpine herself and says, "I don't believe the current situation is a negative … I prefer the look of open land to having golfers outside my windows early on a Saturday morning."
Realtor Cheryl Latshaw, also affiliated with Howard Hanna, researched Loch Alpine sales figures for the last two years and says that prices have held firm. "Homes are selling fast for great prices in our area, especially considering what's happening with the golf course," she says. "People are looking at the golf course lands as green space, and most consider that an asset, not a deterrent."
Both Fitzsimons and Latshaw believe the Loch Alpine deed restriction is binding. "During my closings, I've worked with five different and independent attorneys," Fitzsimons says. All of them reviewed the LAIA's legal document and restriction clause, and they have maintained that it will hold up in court."
While they await the court's decision, more than a few homeowners have taken to mowing the golf course adjacent to their properties, citing coyotes, ticks, allergies, and aesthetics as their reasons. Others are just relaxing on back decks and yards, enjoying the wild look of the open space.
[Originally published in September, 2017.]
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