Country club fight enters new phase

ESCONDIDO — The fight over the Escondido Country Club is far from over, opponents of the development say.

Earlier this month, the resident group Escondido Country Club Homeowners Organization, known as ECCHO, filed a lawsuit against the city over its decision to approve a 380-home development project known as The Villages on Nov. 15.

New Urban West was approved to develop the land after a years-long battle with property owner Michael Schlesinger. He still maintains ownership rights of the course.

ECCHO attorney Everett DeLano said the basis of the lawsuit stems from the City Council failing to submit The Villages Specific Plan to a public vote, approving a project violating zoning, density and neighborhood compatibility requirements and approving a “seriously defective” environmental impact report.

“The project violates Proposition S and the city’s General Plan in numerous respects,” DeLano said. “It fails to respect the existing zoning code requirements and is generally incompatible with the Escondido Country Club neighborhood. Additionally, the city approved an environmental impact report that ignores significant impacts to community and the environment, and that fails to acknowledge that there is a reduced density alternative more compatible with the surrounding area that would meet project objectives.”

Another resident group, Renew Our Country Club, known as ROCC, blasted ECCHO’s decision to sue the city. The two groups, although supporting different ideas for the property, were civil during the five-hour meeting where the City Council approved the plan.

However, both groups have noted the neighborhood has been divided and tensions are rising since the lawsuit was announced on Dec. 14.

ROCC’s statement reads: “Knowing that a lawsuit can not prevent the project from ultimately proceeding, ECCHO’s ill-advised decision to sue amounts to utter foolishness. Their frivolous lawsuit will allow the blight and decay to continue, while costing city taxpayers millions of dollars to defend against it. Worse, it could result in a much larger project thanks to new state legislation. Sadly, ECCHO has decided to stop at nothing to harm our community and City (sic).”

ECCHO has said a lower-scope project is the best option for the neighborhood, noting the current plan will bring an increase in traffic, noise and pollution, to name a few concerns.

The lawsuit is just another chapter of the ongoing saga over the country club. On Nov. 22, a fire at the country club broke out, although no cause of the fire has been determined. The Escondido Fire Department is currently investigating with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

As for Schlesinger, he has battled residents and the city for years after announcing plans to construct 600 homes. He then reconfigured the plan to 270 homes in 2012, but ECCHO and the city pushed back.

The city designated the property open space and Schlesinger filed a lawsuit. The court ruled in his favor and settlement with the city allowed him to hold the property rights, but was part of the process to determine the new developer.

Schlesinger also dumped tons of chicken manure on the golf course causing damage to the landscape and a reeking odor, which netted him a $100,000 fine.

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