Judge returns Country Club back to residential zoning

Judge returns Country Club back to residential zoning
The former Country Club has been surrounded by chain link fence. The court ruling gives Schlesinger the opportunity to move forward with developing the site, although the city is keeping their options open regarding an appeal. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO— After months of back and forth between Escondido and Stuck in the Rough Principal Michael Schlesinger, a decision has been made on the legality of the city’s permanent open space declaration of the former Escondido Country Club.

On March 13, Judge Earl H. Maas III ruled in favor of Schlesinger and restored the residential designation to the 110-acre site.

Mass found the city’s declaration of permanent open space discriminates against Schlesinger’s particular project.

“Clearly, the purpose of the Ordinance was to defeat any housing project for the golf course, by amending the general plan to designate Stuck In the Rough’s property as ‘Open Space-Park.’ The Ordinance unfairly discriminates against (the property) and is therefore invalid,” Mass wrote in the court order.

The golf course had been zoned for single-family residential use since the early 1960’s. In 1964, the city granted a special use permit for the golf course.

It eventually faced financial problems and Schlesinger’s company purchased the property after it was foreclosed on in 2012.
After a large opposition group formed, Escondido Country Club Homeowners Association or ECCHO, the city declared the property permanent open space so the golf course could not be developed.
In a statement released by Schlesinger’s spokesperson Dick Daniels, he said he wants to work towards a compromise.

“The court’s decision to restore the residential designation for the former Escondido Country Club site paves the way for the city, neighborhood homeowners, and ourselves as the property owner to resolve the future use of the site,” Schlesinger said.

His spokesperson Daniels said Schlesinger has been proposing 270 homes with average lot sizes of 9,500 square feet since January.

Schlesinger originally hoped to build about 600 homes, which the zoning allows for.

He scaled that number down for an initiative, which was on the November ballot, to build 430 homes.

Voters did not approve the initiative.

In a closed session meeting March 18, city council decided to keep their legal options open.

“The City has determined to continue studying the legal options which are available following Judge Maas’s decision from last week,” City Attorney Jeffrey Epp said.

Thus far, the city has spent nearly $500,000 on legal fees.

In his written statement, Schlesinger said the city is responsible for paying both parties’ legal fees, totaling more than $2 million.

Nowhere in the court order does it say the city is responsible and City Attorney Epp said he doesn’t believe the city is responsible.

At a recent workshop held by the city, ECCHO President Mike Slater said the majority of the members want some form of a golf course to remain.

Another group, ECC Partners LLC, spoke at the workshop to tell the city of their plans to fund a feasibility study for the golf course.

Ben Gage, of ECC Partners, said they hired three different consultants to find out whether there are economically viable alternatives to a housing development on the site.

The report is expected in three to four months.

Schlesinger has yet to submit any official development proposals for 270 homes.

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