A U.S. District Court judge signed off Thursday on a settlement agreement between Echo Farms residents and the owner of the Echo Farms golf course in Wilmington.
The agreement ends a court case that began after residents learned of Matrix Development Group's plans
to close the golf course and use the land to create a single-family, townhome and multi-family development called The Woodlands at Echo Farms.
The settlement does not involve any money but does involve concessions made by golf course owner Matrix Development Group. While some of the settlement details remained confidential Friday, concessions included an increase in some of the buffers between The Woodlands and existing neighborhoods and homes, modifications to the overall design of The Woodlands, and Matrix's plans to keep the existing pool at Echo Farms Golf & Country Club open through next summer, said Joe Taylor, CEO of Matrix Development Group.
The golf course will close sometime this fall, Taylor said.
"What we've accomplished here on the settlement agreement has been the fruit of a lot of efforts between EFRA [the Echo Farms Residents Association] and the individual litigants and Matrix, which together with all the discussions and all negotiations with Save Echo Farms have really combined to make it a better community going forward," Taylor said of The Woodlands.
The residents' group Save Echo Farms, which has been pushing for the local officials to buy some of the golf course property for a public park, was not part of the court case against Matrix. The Echo Farms Residents Association and individual homeowners filed suit last year
to try to halt the development, citing restrictive covenants that they believed should still apply.
The case was moved from New Hanover County Superior Court to U.S. District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, at the request of Matrix Development. The dispute went into mediation in June, and on Thursday, a consent judgment and settlement agreement were signed by Chief U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III.
Echo Farms dates back to 1974, when 207 lots were recorded for the original Echo Farms subdivision, and a Matrix company, Echo Farms LLC, has owned it since 1998, according to the consent judgment. The judgment said any restrictions in place at that time constitute personal covenants, "enforceable only between the original covenanting parties (Echo Farms Joint Venture and Echo Farms Golf and Country Club, Inc.), they do not run with the land and are not enforceable as to Echo Farms LLC or its successors in title to the Property (or the Adjacent Property)."
"When we went to the mediation period, it was made clear to us at the beginning that we could not negotiate saving the golf course; that was out of the question, and we decided to continue with the negotiations because we just ran out of money," said Henry Winters, an Echo Farms resident and EFRA member who was involved in the case.
Winters called the pending loss of the golf course "a hard pill to swallow." He said four of his neighbors on Foxhall Court in Echo Farms have put their homes up for sale.
But Winters also said that during mediation, Matrix officials "were very nice, nice in their negotiation, and they wanted to bend over backwards where they could in their development activities to please us as neighbors to get the best possible development."
He said 95 percent of the golf course's trees will be saved.
For The Woodlands at Echo Farms, engineering work is expected to be complete before the end of this year, while the permitting and approval process is anticipated to extend well into 2018, Taylor said.
Correction: This version corrects the spelling of Chief U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III's name.