ESCONDIDO — After nearly five hours of presentations, resident feedback, discussion amongst the City Council and an overflowing audience, New Urban West, Inc.’s proposal for the Escondido Country Club was approved Nov. 15.
In a close tally, the council voted 3-2 to move forward with the plan calling for 380 homes, 48.7 acres of open space including a massive green belt, a new clubhouse and four miles of trails. Each home will also be 100 percent powered by solar energy.
“We are extremely grateful to the City Council for their vote as well as to the hundreds of residents who shared our commitment to restoring this community to the healthy and vibrant place it once was,” said Jonathan Frankel, project manager for New Urban West. “We now look forward to continuing our work with the community, including the members of ECCHO (Escondido Country Club Homeowners), as we revitalize this once-prestigious neighborhood.”
Mayor Sam Abed and Councilman John Masson, who represents District 2 where the club is located, both voted against the project. Masson, a civil engineer, said the project doesn’t fit the needs of the community and railed against the architecture style and unmitigated traffic plans, among other issues.
Abed also chided the project for its massive scale and hammered about how no Escondido City Council had ever before voted for a development project with an unmitigated traffic plan.
“You do not do this to a very well-established community,” Abed said. “You don’t bring together a community where the developer gets everything and the residents get nothing.”
A constant theme throughout the evening was anger and disgust from residents and the council toward the property owner, Michael Schlesinger. He is infamous for dumping tons of chicken manure and letting the property go to waste after a bitter dispute with the city and residents along the golf course.
Masson argued the city should not settle or be “forced, blackmailed even” into this project with rumors and speculation a much larger project of 600 to 800 homes could replace New Urban West’s plan.
Masson said the alternative plan of 158 was more in line with the area and style of lot sizes currently on site.
“I think we can all go away winners at 158,” he said. “We got one shot to get this right. I think we need to take the time and energy to get it right.”
Councilmen Mike Morasco and Ed Gallo, along with Councilwoman Olga Diaz, said the project is in line with city standards and would be a benefit for those residents. All three cited the needs for additional housing, amenities and traffic and road improvements. Diaz said if the project wasn’t approved, there is no guarantee a smaller plan would be proposed, noting road improvements and the amenities would most likely be scrapped.
“This is the best proposal we are going to have,” Morasco said.
“We have to base the project on merit,” Gallo added. “There is a critical need for housing.”
Residents and neighbors, meanwhile, discussed how they have been pitted against one another. Two groups formed — ECCHO and Renew Our Country Club (ROCC) — and nearly 70 residents spoke during the meeting.
Supporters from ROCC detailed how the project will revitalize the neighborhood, improve traffic and safety, remove blight and address the dilapidated clubhouse.
ECCHO’s concerns rested on scale, a lack of traffic improvements, density, safety, pollution and flooding.
ECCHO attorney Everett DeLano said his clients were disappointed in the outcome. He noted the issue isn’t over and a lawsuit may be filed in the future. He said there are significant discrepancies with the project and the General Plan.
“I think Councilman Masson had that exactly right. He hit the nail on the head,” DeLano said. “It was an interesting vote. You had Councilwoman Diaz who said she is sympathetic to the community. It’s disappointing. There is a compromise somewhere.”
Several years ago, the city lost a lawsuit brought against Schlesinger when it declared the golf course open space. The settlement allowed for the city to choose a new developer, which included a clause the new developer would buy the property from Schlesinger upon city approval of a new project.
“We have great respect for ECCHO and all they’ve endured over the years in their battle with the property owner. With him now out of the picture forever, it’s time for the community to heal and move forward together,” Frankel added.