Talks over Country Club reinvigorated

Talks over Country Club reinvigorated
The golf course at the former country club has been closed for over two years and has been deteriorating since while the owner, city council and nearby residents struggle to come to a compromise for the site. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO — The defunct golf course on Country Club Lane has been a point of tension between city councilmembers, community members and Michael Schlesinger, the developer who purchased the site in 2012.

The issue began when Schlesinger’s company, Stuck in the Rough, purchased the country club and closed it down after deeming it unable to make a profit.

He proposed a development on the course but was met with backlash from residents on the golf course.

Residents formed the group Escondido Country Club Home Owners or ECCHO, and rallied City Council to permanently designate the golf course as open space.

In August 2013, the council did.

Schlesinger argued that the permanent designation made his land worthless and began litigation against the city. During litigation, an initiative was placed on the ballot last November in hopes of coming to a compromise.

Schlesinger launched a campaign called the Lakes Specific Initiative and hoped to woo voters with public amenities on the property including trails, a community center and an Olympic sized pool.

He was unsuccessful.

Proposition H failed with 60 percent of voters denying the development.

The lawsuit is still in court and a ruling will be made Feb. 26.

City Attorney Jeffrey Epp said the city has spent almost $400,000 in legal fees.

In the meantime Schlesinger has released another plan, which he sees as a compromise.

The plan is to build 270 homes on lots ranging from 7,000 to 15,000 square feet.

A representative for Schlesinger, former councilman Dick Daniels, said this plan would boost the property values of the surrounding homes.

“Because the lots are larger it would have an upscale impact on the surrounding neighborhoods (because the new homes would be) priced significantly higher than what the surrounding homes are currently valued at,” Daniels said.

He said the newest proposal, which isn’t official yet, would get Schlesinger a reasonable return on his investment.

The proposal was put out in order to start a conversation with the residents.

Daniels said the homes would likely cost upwards of $600,000.

ECCHO’s lawyer, Ken Lounsbery, said the members have been gathering suggestions of their own to present to Schlesinger.

“Most of the suggestions do have a golfing element but not all of them insist on an 18-hole golf course,” Lounsbery said.

He said that even though ECCHO members got what they wanted in the November elections, they don’t have a triumphant attitude.

“It’s sort of instilled a sense of responsibility in them,” Lounsbery said.

He believes the issue is not a home density issue but is instead about a lost amenity.

“The focus ought to have been and still has to be on how to replace the lost amenity, not necessarily to replace it in kind, but it’s hard to lose 110 acres, which for 50 years has been an open space recreational amenity and not replace it with anything,” Lounsbery said.

Schlesinger’s representative Daniels said that if the judge rules in favor of Schlesinger Feb. 26, he’ll likely continue with the 270-home plan.

“If the judge invalidates the ECCHO initiative and reinstates the (residential) zoning, Stuck in the Rough will work within its present 270-home plan which more than conforms to that zoning,” Daniels said.

The city is also planning to hold a public workshop in March to gather public input on the matter.

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