Brentwood's Deer Ridge Golf Club possibly to become site of working farm

Press file photo

The Deer Ridge Golf Club could possibly become the site of a working farm and other agricultural amenities.

The future of Brentwood’s permanently closed Deer Ridge Golf Club may yet sprout and grow strong.

The nonprofit World Business Academy is exploring turning the Foothill Drive property into a working farm with a host of other features.

World Business Academy representative Robert Shelton, a consultant hired last year by the golf club’s owner, said the possible project is still in the preliminary stages, but the club’s ownership (Deer Ridge Golf Club, LP) agreed to donate the property to the academy. At least two Brentwood councilmembers — Joel Bryant and Karen Rarey — favor exploring the idea, after a briefing of the project.

The World Business Academy is a nonprofit think tank and action incubator that explores the role of business in relation to critical moral, environmental and social issues of the time.

Deer Ridge Golf Club closed its doors last September amid low demand for golfing and expensive maintenance issues.

“We believe if it is developed the way we want it to, it will be green, flowered and smell like fresh flowers and fruit,” Shelton said.

As envisioned, the sprawling golf club could turn into an “agrihood” (agricultural neighborhood) — in this case featuring already established single-family homes with a working farm.

Other potential elements include redevelopment of the course’s clubhouse into a farm-to-table restaurant or market; bicycle and jogging trails; fitness stations; and solar panels that would form a community microgrid, promoting local energy resiliency.

“I think there are a lot of good prospects in this,” said Rarey, who noted that a key next step will involve gathering the community‘s feedback and input. 

The reuse idea comes around two years after community uproar and city officials’ concerns forced the course owner to scrap a plan to develop the financially struggling Deer Ridge and nearby Shadow Lakes courses. The proposal included a single, 18-hole facility and two age-restricted or memory-care housing facilities — up to three stories tall and totaling 560 units — to be built on 32 acres of the property in close proximity to existing single-family homes.

Shelton, who noted that dead golf courses around the nation are mired in similar community battles, said the nonprofit’s budding project could be a test case for how to settle such conflicts.

“What is happening is real estate developers motivated principally by making money see a failed golf course as an opportunity to pick up a whole lot of acreage for a relatively cheap price per acre, and they want to develop the property to make the most money,” Shelton said. “That typically means putting more density on the property, and when they choose to do that, they are basically killing what motivated property owners to purchase property around the perimeter of the (golf course).”

Shelton said the potential project would keep in place a similar lushly landscaped amenity, much like the course; create a community attraction; possibly raise property values; address the state’s mandates for cleaner energy resources and energy resiliency; and encourage other property developers and lenders to redevelop their struggling or closed golf courses in similar ways.

If the proposed idea materializes, it’s expected that project leaders would try to attract high-tech farming and irrigation-system suppliers — such as academic institutions, nonprofits, government agencies and technology companies — to showcase cutting-edge agricultural land management technologies and test crops, in addition to solar-collection and long-term energy storage vendors, Shelton said.

Organic agricultural methods would be employed to avoid chemical pesticide and petroleum-based fertilizer use, and sustainable and self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems would be emphasized, Shelton added.

“We hope to create a mixture of pastoral ambiance and purposeful use of cutting-edge, green technologies to create this agrihood as a demonstration project and to enhance life and property values in the adjacent neighborhood,” he said.

The potential 14 acres of solar collection panels on the course’s south-facing hillside would front onto Briones Valley Road, creating minimal to no visual impact for residents, given the site’s topography, Shelton said. The green energy harvested could stabilize participating residents’ monthly utility bills, in addition to allowing them to skirt the adverse effects of power outages.

Assistant City Manager Terrence Grindall said the potential project’s immediate next steps would likely involve garnering the community’s formal feedback — especially those living in the Deer Ridge community — through surveys, virtual meetings or other methods that take into account the need for social distancing.

At least one Deer Ridge resident reached by The Press this week said the project is “very appealing at first look” but that more details are needed.

Area resident Rod Flohr said some of the neighbors he’s spoken with favor the project at first word, but others have expressed concerns about the proposed solar panels’ appearance.

He noted that he’d favor the golf club ownership group placing a conservation easement on the course if and when it’s transferred to the World Business Academy, to ensure the land’s future.

“In general, I think it’s a cool idea, but it needs to be fleshed out,” Flohr said.