Business can be brutal. In Strathcona County, one land dispute is also proving bizarre.
A developer has suggested he may turn an old golf course into a cemetery and those who live in the luxury estates surrounding the property say it’s an attempt to sabotage their community.
“I was a little freaked out by that,” Sherwood Golf & Country Club Estates resident Chad Banman said. “I saw it actually come up and I was really freaked out.”
Harry Kaura owns the Amnor Group and the former Coyote Crossing Golf Course. Many of the residents of Sherwood Golf & Country Club Estates aren’t too happy with him.
Last week, three signs went up in the parking lot of the now-closed golf course that borders the country club development just south of Sherwood Park.
One sign read, “coming soon.”
On another was the word, “cemetery.”
The third sign promised a “funeral home.”
When Banman saw the signs he thought, “He’s a property developer, not a funeral home [operator.] I’m guessing it’s a way to drive down the value of the land.”
It’s an accusation Harry Kaura does not dispute.
“There’s a fair bit of that. I’ll be honest about it. Yes, we didn’t take it very lightly.”
This fight dates back to 2014 when a company called VIP Developments owned the Coyote Crossing Golf Course and the surrounding land. It had begun to develop the million-dollar homes that backed onto the nine-hole course.
Before the project was complete, VIP Developments went bankrupt and the creditor, CareVest Capital, took control of the land.
Kaura said he wanted to buy the undeveloped land and finish building the subdivision, but he claims CareVest would only sell him the land if he agreed to buy the golf course. Kaura said he agreed and bought the course.
“Then they turned around and kept the land themselves,” Kaura said.
“I was not very happy about it but that happens in business all the time.”
In an e-mailed statement sent by CareVest Capital’s lawyer, the company denies there was such an agreement and says CareVest didn’t keep the land.
It was transferred to a group of investors in a judicially-approved sale. The land is held in trust and those investors hired a company called Landrex to develop the subdivision.
The process left Kaura upset — he never wanted to own or operate a golf course.
“Without the land, I had no idea how to go about doing that. I was not going to invest any money,” he said.
After a couple of years when the golf course lost money, Kaura permanently closed it.
The view has become anything but picturesque.
The ninth tee box is about 100 metres from the back door of one house. A few sparse blades of grass remain on it, but they’re mostly crowded out by knee-high dandelions.
The fairway runs past the yards of several more homes. It is also covered with dandelions, except where bushes of thistles have crowded out the other weeds. The ninth green is mostly dirt and the now-stagnant water hazard surrounding it is filled with algae.
The course — once a selling feature to those moving in — has become a source of discontent.
“It’s really childish,” resident Sue-Ann Devlin said. “At this point, we’ve been through enough. We don’t need the games. We didn’t do anything.”
“It’s upsetting. You pay a lot for your home, a lot for your landscaping and all this is just creeping right up into your yard.”
Kaura said he feels bad for the people living along his land.
“I really, really, from the bottom of my heart feel sorry for the residents who are caught in the middle.”
However, Kaura said the course lost money and his original business plan is no longer possible. He can’t afford to maintain the property the way it once was. He adds he doesn’t have to.
“We are not under obligation to maintain anything. It’s a private golf course. It’s private land. It’s not a golf course anymore.”
What the land could become is unclear. The signs announcing a cemetery and funeral home have come down.
Kaura said he decided to take them down last Friday after receiving a call from Strathcona County’s mayor, but the development idea remains.
“We own 64 acres of land. We hired a planner and we’re going to look at all options available to us, as far as the land is concerned,” Kaura said.
“A cemetery very well could be an option.”
Concerned residents have asked Strathcona County to address both their maintenance concerns and the prospect of a cemetery across from their yards.
In a statement, a County spokesperson said Strathcona County “is aware of this matter and appreciates residents’ frustrations. However, the golf course is a privately-owned recreation facility and therefore the owner has the rights of any private business. As this is a private facility, the municipality has no control over its operations or the upkeep of the course itself. The County continues to monitor this property to ensure compliance with County bylaws such as nuisance and unsightly premises.”
As for the cemetery plan, the county said nothing can happen soon.
“The County has not received any application to amend the land use for the golf course. Any proposal to change the land use from a private golf course would require multiple amendments to Statutory Plans including the County’s Municipal Development Plan, the Country Residential Area Concept Plan, as well the Sherwood Golf and Country Club Estates Area Structure Plan. Amending these plans is a significant undertaking and involves extensive public engagement, a Public Hearing, and ultimately Council approval.”
Cemetery or not, the dispute continues and the weeds remain — which leaves many residents exasperated.
Kaura said he has agreed to regularly cut the grass on holes that back onto existing properties but he said either the developer or the homeowners will need to pay his costs.
Long term, Landrex, which is managing the development, said it has been in discussions with Kaura about finding a possible solution to these issues.
Kaura said he thought an agreement had recently been reached, but added the deal fell apart at the last minute.
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