By Rusty Bradshaw
If Sun City homeowners allow their properties to fall into disarray or are found to be in violation of local CCRs, they’re bound to get a letter from the local homeowners association.
But when it comes to an unsightly commercial property, it’s often an uphill battle to find anyone or any agency who can step in and force the owner to clean up the appearance of the business.
The responsibility of Sun City residential property owners are defined in the community covenants, conditions and restrictions.
The Sun City Home Owners Association and the various 386 condo associations respond to residents’ complaints about homes — but who is responsible for overseeing and enforcing any requirements regarding the appearance and condition of a local business?
The existence of a CCR-type document — and a single enforcement body — for commercial property owners is mixed, and not all aspects are as reactive or proactive to conditions of those properties as residential.
“For the most part, residents keep their homes and properties in pretty good shape, and they take care of violations fairly quickly,” said Tom Wilson, SCHOA general manager.
While the same could be said for most commercial business owners, as with residential owners there are those whose storefronts and buildings are in dire need of a makeover.
In extreme cases, an unkempt business can reflect negatively on the community, creating tension and concern among homeowners and community governing agencies.
Complaints are voiced now about two particular commercial properties in Sun City — a small strip mall on the southeast corner of Union Hills Drive and 99th Avenue, and the Union Hills Golf Course, 9860 W. Lindgren Ave.
Resident Candace Catalano, in a letter to the editor, complained about the vacant strip mall becoming a used car lot as people park cars there with “For Sale” signs. The parking lot is also in disrepair.
“I counted nine vehicles in the lot at one time and people walking around testing the doors, a few kids sitting in an open convertible,” she stated in the letter. “Several months ago my husband and I found homeless people living behind that mall.”
Several residents complained to SCHOA about the Union Hills Golf Course as the area around the clubhouse is mostly bare dirt as the grass was allowed to die and there are several dead trees on the property. Since SCHOA does not have jurisdiction over commercial property, officials turned it over to the Maricopa County Code Enforcement Department.
“I believe Code Enforcement has been out there after residents have called here, too,” Scott Isham, Maricopa County District 4 Supervior Clint Hickman’s chief of staff, stated in an email.
Mr. Isham said the county has limited enforcement powers over a business — unlike incorporated cities that can adopt ordinances that pertain to commercial properties. Both Sun City and Sun City West are unincorporated.
“Our main focus is health and safety,” he stated. “We do have enforcement with junk, trash and debris but not aesthetics.”
Association officials must follow a prescribed format of multiple notifications and can resort to legal action if necessary to get compliance. Agencies that govern commercial property also have a format to follow to achieve compliance. These efforts take time, according to Mr. Wilson. SCHOA officials resolved an issue at a home Aug. 22 that was simmering for five years as volunteers cleaned a property of a wide range of debris. Resolution did not come until SCHOA officials obtained a court order.
While they have no jurisdiction over commercial properties, SCHOA officials try to work with property managers to clean up commercial sites. If no results are gained that way, they work with county officials. This was the case a few years ago with a used car dealer on 103rd Avenue, an old service station at 107th and Grand avenues (now Starbucks) and space behind thrift stores in the Sun Bowl Plaza at 107th and Peoria avenues.
Mr. Wilson understands the challenges the county faces when it comes to commercial properties.
“The county is a large area and they have a compliance staff about the same size as SCHOA,” Mr. Wilson said.
Residents in the area of commercial businesses are not as understanding.
Duane Washecck lives adjacent to the Union Hills Golf Course. He said there are more problems than dead grass and trees.
“The fountain doesn’t work and there aren’t enough restrooms on the course,” he said. “The workers are doing the best they can but the owners are not putting any money into it.”
Senior owner Ric Lanoue did not return a phone request for comment about conditions at the property.
Mr. Washecck is not willing to do nothing. He discussed with some of his neighbors about circulating a petition asking the owners to address the property issues.
“This is ruining our home values,” he said.
The Sun City Elks considered purchasing the clubhouse and parking lot at the Union Hills Golf Course early in 2018. An offer was made, but rejected by Union Hills ownership. The Elks voted to pursue the purchase based on discussions with Union Hills Golf Course management about plans to subdivide the entire country club property and offer it for sale, according to Bob Gleason, Elks trustee chairman.
An attempt to sell a portion of the country club land was rejected in the courts in 2011. At that time, the country club was owned by its members and overseen by a board of directors. Officials then wanted to sell a portion of the parking lot on the northeast corner of Lindgren Avenue and Conestoga Drive to a developer who would build 72 condo units. Proceeds from the sale would fund a rebuild of the clubhouse.
Some homeowners adjacent to the course objected, citing a loss of property value. Country club officials sued 21 individual homeowners to get them to sign waivers to amend the deed restrictions that called for the property to remain a golf course. Superior Court Judge Harriet Chavez ruled Feb. 9, 2011 in a summary judgment for the homeowners that club officials’ contention that conditions had changed, allowing them the opportunity to alter the restrictions, was not enough, based on case law.
Ms. Catalano echoed other resident complaints about the strip mall.
“This is too close for comfort, not only for those in Phase 3, but for all residents,” she stated about the property across the street from Marinette Recreation Center, 9860 W. Union Hills Drive. “Not mentioning eyesores to all the people who not only live here but also for the thousands of those who come here for the pickelball tournaments.”