Diaz backs development plan

Diaz backs development plan
The Country Club property in Escondido remains unused since its purchase more than a year ago. Developers want to build 430 homes on the site of the former golf course. Photo by Ellen Wright

Deputy mayor calls endorsement a compromise


ESCONDIDO — Michael Schlesinger’s development company, Stuck in the Rough LLC, is aptly named.

The Escondido Country Club was purchased by the Beverly Hills-based company in 2013 and the property has been stuck in the rough since then.

Earlier this week, Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz announced she is backing Schlensinger’s initiative, which will be on the ballot in November, to develop the defunct golf course into a 430-home development with 25 percent open space.

Diaz endorsed the Lakes Specific Plan, Open Space and Revitalization Initiative or Proposition H, calling it a compromise.

“It provides a path to resolving an expensive legal dispute, offering a mix of community amenities, open space and new residential housing,” said Diaz.

When Schlesinger first purchased the golf course, it was losing more than $35,000 a month, he said. Membership was at an all time low, with 120 members, and only half were using the golf course.

The 50-year-old course also needed a lot of upgrades, including a sprinkler system.

“They were watering 110 acres by hand,” said Schlesinger.

He said he spent four to five months trying to decide whether or not the property, which has declared bankruptcy three times by different owners over the years, could become economically viable. After deciding it wasn’t, he proposed the building of 430 homes.

In August 2013, the City Council unanimously voted to turn the property into permanent open space after residents surrounding the golf course started a movement to halt development of the property. They called themselves ECCHO (Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization).

Schlesinger then began litigation against the city, because, he said, his property became worthless.

“It’s an extremely complicated issue. You can’t just take the property and say, ‘OK, it was zoned like this, now it’s going to be zoned like this,’ and not assume there’s a bunch of cascading issues,” said Schlesinger.

Schlesinger has spent $5,000 to $6,000 developing 12 separate plans for the property. He said he tried to reach out to four different Home Owner Associations and to ECCHO but was not allowed to present at their meetings.

He believes his plan will benefit more of the community because 25 percent of the 110-acre development will be facilities meant for public use. The plan includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis courts, lakes and trails.

Schlesinger said that he is open to the idea of a restaurant or anything else, which is why he’s asked residents to attend his CARE (Creating A Revitalized Escondido) meetings.

The property was zoned for 600 additional homes and he believes his plan is “truly a compromise,” since he’s only planning to build 430 homes and 25 percent is going to be space available to the public.

Some parts of the initiative have not been decided. He said he hopes to form partnerships with the city and nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club, and to maintain the pool and to hire a lifeguard, if it passes in November.

As part of the plan, he will also contribute $1 million to the city to be used to purchase land to be designated as permanent open space.

Residents were upset with Schlesinger after chicken manure was spread over the course this April. He said it was a huge mistake and it was cleaned immediately.

He also said it was worth noting that he was never fined for the ordeal.

If the initiative passes, the litigation from Schlesinger towards the city would wind down. The city would likely still be on the hook for legal fees but the damages owed would be minimal, said Schlesinger.

“The worst thing for anyone is that this property just sits there like this for generations to come, fought over with legal fees, no economic value, all the homes surrounding it are plummeting and no one can use the space. That’s not beneficial for anyone.”

 

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