Depending on who you ask in Mesa’s Apache Wells neighborhood, the brown, retro-style building with the UFO domes on top is either a run-down monstrosity that deserves to be torn down or an old building that should be renovated.
The building is home to a restaurant, a meeting hall, a golf pro-shop and a fitness center. It’s the only centralized hub in the neighborhood where homeowners and country club members can rent space for a town hall meeting or grab a quick bite.
But now, this 40-year-old “Jetsons” building is at the center of controversy between those who want to tear it down and rebuild it versus those who don’t want to rebuild. The argument boils down to one simple question: Are homeowners willing to shell out the extra $6,000 to buy the building, tear it down and rebuild it?
Walt Stromme is one Apache Wells homeowner who doesn’t want to dig into his wallet. The school-bus driver serves as the chairman of the Save Apache Wells Committee, a grass roots organization that has fought plans to buy the building. He said the project is being pushed by rich people who have moved into the East Mesa retirement community.
“People are coming in here with their champagne appetites, and they want the rest of us to pay for their activities,” Stromme said. “Most of us here are just average people.”
But those who support the project disagree, saying the community needs a nice, relaxing place to gather for meetings and events.
Currently, the old building is not owned by the Apache Wells Homeowner’s Association. Everything on the premises except the fitness center is the property of the Apache Wells Country Club.
Many of the 485 stakeholders of the country club, the majority of whom are also Apache Wells residents, would like to sell the building to the HOA. The HOA would then charge each household a special assessment of roughly $6,000, or $50 a month, to pay for the new $8.5 million facility.
Right now, the HOA rents space at the building to hold its meetings, but supporters of the new building say it’s way too small to host concerts or parties.
“In my mind, the biggest thing we have going in this community is our sense of community,” said Julie Couture, a past HOA president and a member of the Apache Wells Community Long Range Planning Committee. “Right now, we don’t have a community center.”
Here’s how the deal would go:
If a majority of both country club stakeholders and homeowners vote to approve the deal, the country club will transfer ownership of the building and a nearby parking lot to the HOA. The golf course would still belong to the country club.
The club would receive roughly $700,000 for the land, and then use that money for pay for demolition, abatement and for the actual construction of the new golf pro-shop.
The Homeowners Association would assume ownership of the building and the restaurant, and the rest of the costs would fall on homeowners.
The pro-shop also would be owned by the HOA, which, under the terms of the deal, would lease it back to the country club for $1 a year.
A lien can be placed on the property if people do not make their payments, according to the Community Long Range Planning Committee. But there are several payment plans for residents if the building gains approval, and those who cannot afford the payments can apply for deferred payments.
Despite heated arguments on both sides of the issue, most neighbors agree on one thing: The building is old, it’s not up to code, and it’s infested with termites, mold, asbestos and dry-rot contamination.
“It’s pretty much like Elvis has left the building,” said Jim Nosbish, the president of the country club’s board of directors and a member of the Community Long Range Planning Committee. “It’s something you would have seen on Route 66.”
Couture, Nosbish and their fellow committee members are trying to convince homeowners to support the plan. The way they see it, a third of the community already owns the building anyway since virtually all the country club’s stakeholders live in the 1,412 lot Apache Wells neighborhood.
Nosbish said he thinks it’s unfair for the country club to pay entirely for a building that is utilized by the majority of the community.
Apache Wells is a retirement community that has undergone a lot of demographic change over the years. Visitors to the neighborhood can see ‘60s-style manufactured homes sitting right alongside large custom-built stucco homes.
Last year, the Apache Wells zip code made it into the Phoenix area’s top 25 wealthiest zip codes, based on factors such as house value, net worth and household income, according to data analyzed by research firm ESRI.
Bob Teague, a member of the Save Apache Wells Committee, said he’s not opposed to the idea of fixing up the community building, but he doesn’t think many people can afford to pay for a brandnew one. He said he wishes there were other options on the table.
“What they offered us is an all-or-nothing plan,” Teague said. “There’s no alternative.”
SPLIT DECISION: The politicking in Apache Wells has heated up as two big elections draw near on the proposed community center. Yard signs are popping up on lawns. And much to the chagrin of the Save Apache Wells Committee, some of the messages on the signs seem to be clouding the issue.
Apparently some of the people in favor of the plan have usurped the name of the Save Apache Wells Committee by using signs that read “Save Apache Wells. Vote Yes.”
Members of the Save Apache Wells Committee said the choice of wording was meant to confuse voters on the issue. But Charon Johnson, a member of the Community Long Range Planning Committee, says his group has nothing to do with it and he doesn’t know who is putting up these signs. “I think it’s a play on words,” he said. “It’s almost like a political contest.”