Country Club residents discuss possibilities for golf course

Country Club residents discuss possibilities for golf course
After years of neglect, the former Escondido Country Club golf course has fallen into disrepair. On March 5, nearby residents expressed frustration with the way the owner of the site and the city have been unable to come to an agreement. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO— Dozens of residents surrounding the now defunct Escondido Country Club and golf course spoke out March 5 saying they wanted some form of a golf course.

The residents’ ideas ranged from a full executive course to a nine-hole course.
Others offered ideas including a full-service spa, a boutique hotel that hosts weddings and a retirement community.

The city held a workshop to get the public’s input on the golf course, which is owned by developer Michael Schlesinger.

In August 2013 the city declared the property permanent open space after a resident group, Escondido Country Club Home Owners or ECCHO, rallied against a proposal to develop hundreds of homes on the property.

This past November, voters struck down Schlesinger’s proposal to build 435 homes on the golf course.

Currently Schlesinger is suing over the legality of the city’s ordinance declaring the golf course open space and the judge’s decision is expected later this week.

The golf course’s current zoning of open space is broad, according to Principal Planner Jay Peterek.

Open space zoning encompasses things such as airports, firing ranges and colleges.

Because of this broad term, city staff plans to develop code language in the city’s Master Plan.

A public hearing will be required before any changes can be made to the General Plan.

At the workshop, ECCHO President Mike Slater, said nearly 200 country club residents were polled for suggestions.

He said 86 percent of the residents wanted some form of a golf course and that only nine percent did not oppose residential home development on the golf course.

According to Schlesinger’s legal argument, when he purchased the golf course, it was zoned for residential use.

He said he realized the golf course was no longer economically viable after doing a feasibility study.

Another group has formed, ECC Partners LLC, to fund and publish a feasibility study of their own.

“When it became clear that Mr. Schlesinger intended all along to develop the property, we wondered what the support was for his position that no golf course could ever be operated profitably at that site,” Ben Gage, of ECC Partners said.

The company hired three consulting firms to study nearby golf courses throughout southern California.

They will research different levels and types of memberships, including golf-training facilities and recreational play.

Another option one of the consultants plans to explore is turf removal.

The Metropolitan Water District offers $2 per square foot to remove turf and replace with native plant species or artificial lawns.

According to Gage, the Rancho Santa Fe Country Club recently received $1.6 million through this program.

Gage said the Escondido Country Club could be eligible for $3 to $4 million through this program.

The feasibility study will take 90 to 120 days.

The legal ruling between the city and Schlesinger is expected March 11 or 12.

Ken Lounsbery, general counsel for ECCHO doesn’t believe the matter will be solved in court because the losing side will likely appeal.

“No matter what happens, the final decisions won’t be made in court,” said Lounsbery.

Rick Elkin said regardless of the ruling, something needs to be done to come to a compromise.
“We need solutions now. We can’t afford to wait,” Rick Elkin said.

Director of Community Development Barbara Redlitz said the city is still taking comments and more workshops will be held.

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