A superior court judge has ruled in favor of the owners of the former Crooked Creek Golf Course who were sued by residents wanting to keep the course open, giving the owners the green light to develop the property if an appeal isn’t filed.
Superior Court Judge G. Wayne Abernathy issued a summary judgment earlier this month that denies the injunction requested by Crooked Creek residents and allows C.C. Partners Inc. to develop the land at their discretion.
Russell Killen, the lawyer representing the property owners, said his clients have backed away from their previously stated desire to build homes on the former golf course, which closed last summer. Instead, Killen said, C.C. Partners has signed a letter of intent with The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit, to turn part of the land into a park.
A smaller portion of the former golf course is under contract with Wake County Public Schools, which wants to build a new elementary school on the site.
Residents have argued, through a group called Friends of Crooked Creek, that the course owners should be required to keep the course open, despite its losses in recent years. Many residents say they bought their homes as retirement investments based on the promise that a golf course would operate in the neighborhood. They say the course’s losses are due to poor management rather than market conditions.
A letter mailed to Friends of Crooked Creek this week, which was signed by Killen, summarized Abernathy’s decision and the compromise proposed by C.C. Partners.
Abernathy found a provision in the development’s 1993 covenant declaration giving guidance in the instance that the golf course is subdivided and redeveloped. He said that indicated C.C. Partners contemplated the possibility of redeveloping the golf course from the time it first platted the land.
“The language is unambiguous that the intent of the defendants was not to restrict the use to golf in perpetuity, but rather to reserve the right to develop any or all of the golf course property,” Abernathy wrote.
Killen said his client’s offer to turn the land into a park, rather than more homes, is contingent upon residents agreeing not to appeal the ruling or file further suits against C.C. Partners. He said the legal costs incurred by further litigation would compromise his clients’ financial position to the point that residential development would become the only financially viable option.
“They’ve never wanted to stick it to the neighbors,” Killen said in an interview, about C.C. Partners. “They want to do something that’s good for everybody, but the problem for us, of course, is if this appeal is filed, we pay $15,000 a month in interest, continue to pay fees, and frankly, the ability to hold these deals together indefinitely becomes more difficult as this drags out.”
That’s because the letter of intent is not binding, which means it’s still possible homes could be built on the golf course, even if residents agree not to appeal or sue again. In the event that the deal between C.C. Partners and the Conservation Fund is unsuccessful, Killen said, the property owners have offered to build low-density housing, which is more in line with the character of the surrounding homes than what had been proposed originally.
Matt Quinn, the lawyer representing Crooked Creek residents in the suit, said he and his clients told C.C. Partners they were “willing to assist making a deal with the Conservation Fund go through.
“But (C.C. Partners) rejected that,” he said. “Because they wanted us to agree that if it fails we consent to putting a whole bunch of houses on the land.”
Killen said that an appeal would amount to residents “wanting to have their cake and eat it too.” His letter named the Friends of Crooked Creek litigants and suggested other residents take legal action against them if an appeal is filed for “not acting in the neighborhood’s best interest or within their fiduciary duties as HOA board members.”
Quinn said he and his clients are still discussing whether they will appeal the ruling. But he said the letter of intent C.C. Partners has signed with the Conservation Fund is too far removed from any sort of binding promise for Crooked Creek residents to forfeit the option of further suits in return.
“We know they don’t have any offers to build a park or a price to make it a park, but we do know they have had multiple offers to sell this property to national builders,” Quinn said. “(Killen) is encouraging them to sue (each other) and also trying to threaten them into not exercising their appellate options. Those are entirely inappropriate threats.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan