Wednesday, March 06, 2002

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Golf course developer bails

By MARY SPEARS-For the Frontiersman

MAT-SU -- Valley visions of a Jack Nicklaus golf course at the Butte finally evaporated with a Feb. 12 letter to the borough from E. G. Judd Walker of Pioneer Mountain Properties, LLC and Homestead Resort Properties.

In his letter, Walker relinquished the two companys' rights to the lease of 320 acres of borough-owned public land in the Butte area, citing lack of interest by investors, lack of a feasibility study, and Alaska's short growing season as major problems contributing to the decision.

Walker, in his letter, said he intends to apply for the southern 240 acres of the tract immediately upon relinquishing the lease, expressing a belief that there are more feasible ways to use the property that would benefit the public more directly.

Borough manager John Duffy provided Walker's letter to the borough assembly at its Feb. 19 meeting.

Duffy said Thursday the letter was a disappointment, but he realized the challenge involved with financing the type and caliber of golf course proposed by the developer.

The Jack Nicklaus Golf Course saga began in 1966 when, according to an April 2001 Spectrum article by Butte resident Jim Courtney, Victor Trygstad of Homestead Resort Properties applied to buy 320 acres of public land in the Butte after obtaining options on about 500 acres of adjacent private land. Courtney said he became involved in the issue after hearing Trygstad speak to the borough assembly and Butte Community Council. In addition to getting involved in the community council, serving as secretary, treasurer and now board member, Courtney said he has collected a range of information about Trygstad's proposed plan. Trygstad, he said, claimed to have an agreement with Jack Nicklaus to build a $15 million golf course and resort, and said Nicklaus himself required the borough land to make the project successful.

Courtney's column recounted that area residents overwhelmingly protested, preferring to maintain the character of the area and to keep the popular parcel for recreational use. Trygstad apparently gave elaborate presentations and played Jack Nicklaus golf videos, but never produced his often-promised plan.

Pioneer Mountain Properties eventually took over the lease. Although according to information in a Feb. 17, 1999 article about the plan, Homestead owned a 40-percent interest in Pioneer Mountain Properties, Homestead president Victor Trygstad would make no decisions concerning management of the land in the borough.

Ron Swanson, borough community development director, said now that the golf course option is off the table, the borough plans to set aside a portion of the land in question.

"The thing we have to do immediately is to reserve the right-of-way for the Plumley/Maude trail that extends throughout the property and make sure that trail remains open for public use," Swanson said.

Then, Swanson said, the borough will take some time to review the area and the various current uses of the land and come up with a use for the property.

That concept would be taken to the public for comment and input before any applications are accepted for development. The Butte community, Swanson said, would be especially involved in the public process.

Once there is agreement upon the concept and the conditions for any development, the borough would put together a request for proposals containing those conditions along with possible additional provisions for developers. Such provisions might include a requirement that the developer provide ballparks, open spaces, trails and similar community amenities that give something back to the people of the borough.

Swanson said the public should not expect that Pioneer Mountain Properties or any other developer will automatically be able to buy the land. The borough now has an ordinance requiring competitive procedures for purchase of borough land, he said. Pioneer will be able to submit a competitive proposal in response to the request for proposals along with other developers or individuals wishing to purchase land in the area.

"I am glad to hear that the community is getting their land back after four years," Courtney said after hearing the news. "But I'm still skeptical that we'll be able to keep it."

Courtney said the closed door gives the borough a chance to repair the damage done and move forward.

"I hope this is the conclusion of this matter and that trust can be rebuilt between area residents and the borough," Courtney said. He paused for a moment before concluding, "The borough needs to continue to be on the lookout for those who would relieve them of our assets under questionable pretenses. The borough possesses extremely valuable properties which serve as a magnet for these kinds of interests."














Copyright 2002 Frontiersman.com.