By Claire Duchemin
Reading the recent columns by J.T. Williams and Barton Tuck on the proposed closing of the north nine holes at Killearn, it strikes me that no one is speaking up for those of us member/owners who are most directly impacted by the changes. It’s high time the truth came out so that the citizens of this community and our elected officials understand the impact on those of us in the trenches, or as some homeowners have called it “ground zero.”
First, a few corrections and factual statements are in order. We are not a “well-heeled” minority. We are a group of hard-working middle class homeowners who put our life savings into our homes in the hopes that someday the equity we built up over twenty or thirty years would help see us through retirement. By using the bully pulpit to cast aspersions on those of us trying to protect our property investments, Barton Tuck and his merry band of blind followers have pitted neighbor against neighbor to squeeze out and intimidate those of us trying to stand up for our property rights. But we are not going quietly into the night just yet.
Contrary to the intimations in his recent column, Mr. Tuck’s proposed plan has yet to produce a single drawing or schematic of the proposed new clubhouse or other facilities being promised to members. In fact, to date, the only engineering plan or other drawing of any type produced to us by the owner, on the proposed future of the facilities, depicts a memory care assisted living facility footprint on what is now the primary parking lot for the golf course, pool, and tennis courts. Will Killearn end up like Mr. Tuck’s Club at Viniterra in New Kent, Virginia, that, three years after Mr. Tuck’s company took over, is still waiting for its clubhouse, has no date of proposed commencement of construction, is operating out of a double-wide mobile home, and has gone from a private club to a semi-public facility? The best predictor of future performance is past performance.
Conveniently, Mr. Tuck forgets to mention any where in his column that over the more than twenty years his company leased the country club to another entity, he and his partners reaped more than $11.0 million in rent payments and put none of that money into maintenance or upgrades to the facilities or infrastructure of Killearn. In addition, when the tenant last year bought its way out of the lease, Mr. Tuck’s company did not put that money back into the facilities for the members. Instead, the money was used to pay down the mortgage on the golf course, building equity for Mr. Tuck and his partners, not for the members or the homeowners along the golf course. Meanwhile, as recently as May of this year, Killearn was cited for more than twenty health code violations in its restaurant facilities, including multiple citations for failure to keep food at appropriate cooling temperatures. Perhaps Mr. Tuck should have spent some of the tenant’s lease buy-out money to improve the most basic facilities, refrigeration.
Second, Mr. Tuck’s plan is not the only viable alternative the homeowners and members have to secure the future of the development and our property values. The members have an absolute right to purchase the golf course and golf facilities and they too can extend the covenants on the property for another forty years, if they purchase it. The threat – that if the members do not go along with this plan the course will close in 2021- is interesting but empty, considering the provisions of the mortgage on the golf course which require permission of the mortgage holder before any changes in operations or facilities are permitted.
Between 1987 when Mr. Tuck’s group acquired Killearn and 1997, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of residences were built along the north course tee boxes, fairways, and greens, with the promise that those were “golf course” homes. Mr. Tuck and his partners stood by and idly watched as the citizens of this community bought and paid mortgages, insurance, and taxes on those properties and worked hard to maintain the family-oriented nature of the community, all while the owners hungrily banked more than $11.0 million in revenue. They did nothing as the centerpiece of our community, our golf course and country club, continued to deteriorate under their absentee ownership. Mr. Tuck now wants to effectively harvest our home equity to pay for the many renovations and improvements that a responsible member of the community would have been making all along. Personally, I and my colleagues prefer to purchase the golf facilities and be in charge of our own destiny, one that takes into consideration what is the right thing to do for all of the homeowners in Killearn, not just a carpetbagger developer from Greenville, South Carolina and a select few who want a ritzy new clubhouse and swimming pool.