Future development dominates town hall discussions

Future development dominates town hall discussions
Mayor Sam Abed, far right, holds his bi-annual town hall meeting on Sept. 16. Residents’ concerns largely focused on current and future development within the city. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO — During Mayor Sam Abed’s bi-annual Town Hall meeting on Sept. 16, the majority of residents were concerned with the future of the Escondido Country Club and other developments throughout the city.

Some residents surrounding the now defunct country club said they were frustrated that the legal discussions between the city and the owner of the land, Michael Schlesinger, are held during closed session.

Abed said he’d like to see a solution for the property sooner rather than later because the site is deteriorating which is bad for property values.

He also echoed his sentiments from the last town hall meeting saying that Schlesinger is the problem and the city would like to deal with somebody else.

“I think he’s a problem and I told (him) nobody wants to deal with you,” Abed said.

The problem has been ongoing since Schlesinger bought the property in 2012.

He proposed building more than 600 homes on the country club. Surrounding residents formed a group, Escondido Country Club Homeowners, or ECCHO, to combat the development.

They were successful and City Council declared it permanent open space which a judge overturned in March stating the city unfairly discriminated against the property.

Last year voters also denied a project to allow about 400 homes on the site.

The city still has the option to appeal the judge’s decision although Abed would not say whether or not they plan to.

Mike Slater, president of ECCHO said he’s concerned the city will approve an unfavorable development by Schlesinger.

“The supporters are quite worried from rumors they hear that the City Council people are being bought and intimidated by Schlesinger and are going to cave to some kind of settlement,” said Slater.

Abed said the site will never remain permanent open space because of the millions of dollars it would cost for upkeep but he wants to see a project with balanced amenities.

“We’re not going to move forward with a project that doesn’t have balanced amenities,” Abed said.

Other residents voiced their concerns about future developments in the city. One resident asked Abed and the council to have a survey to gauge resident’s views on the future of the city, which Abed said was a great idea.

Abed said the city historically doesn’t support every proposed housing development but does support “quality developments,” like that of Latitude 33.

Last month, the same developer was approved for another condominium project, with 112 units.

Abed said they were approved because the upscale condos attract people with disposable incomes that are good for the city’s economy.

He also pointed out that developments in the city are guided by the city’s general plan, which undergoes extensive public scrutiny.

“The public approved the general plan so we are making development decisions based on the public vote,” Abed said.

Another issue a resident brought up was a city employee who was recently fired for running an anti-Semitic website.

About three months ago, John Friend was fired from his administrative position in the city manager’s office.

Abed would not comment on personnel issues but said as soon as Friend’s website was discovered, the city took action.

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