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Dying Golf Course Held Hostage By Competing Initiatives

The future of the Escondido Country Club Golf course is rapidly withering.

If a November ballot initiative passes, a developer hopes to build hundreds of homes on the course. But the Escondido City Council has already approved a citizens initiative that would preserve the course as open space.

Photo by Alison St John

The unwatered Escondido Country Club Golf Course sits next to green gardens, Aug. 7, 2014.

The developer, Stuck in the Rough LLC, closed the course last year, saying it was no longer economically viable, and stopped watering the greens. That left hundreds of nearby homeowners living next to acres of dried grass and dying trees.

Dennis Hollingsworth, a spokesman for the developer, said the ballot initiative is a compromise. He said the plan is to build 430 homes on the 110 acres, instead of the 600 houses the developer believes is permitted by current city zoning.

"The important thing to know about this initiative is that it solves the problem through a compromise that happens now," Hollingsworth said. "Otherwise, the two parties are going to fight it out in court. There could be a multimillion judgment against the city of Escondido, and the property is going to remain an unused and blighted eyesore for many, many years."

But Ken Lounsbery, an attorney representing the Escondido Country Club & Community Homeowners Organization, said all five members of the City Council have supported an earlier citizens initiative to keep the course as open space, and they believe the course can be saved.

"The area is unwatered, 79 trees have died and the grass is brown," Lounsbery said. "That’s not to say that the land area is lost. There is still 110 acres of open space. It’s not the same open space it was before, but nor is it 430 rooftops."

Lounsbery said the council members are pro business and pro development, but even they are united in opposing this land use change.

There is much at stake: The developer is suing the city for millions of dollars more than the city has in its reserves.

The November ballot measure may — or may not — end the litigation.

The developer also faces fines for a stink caused earlier this year when Stuck in the Rough scattered chicken manure on the golf course. Nearby residents said it was done to fowl the air and irritate the homeowners, but the developer said it was to maintain the course.

The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District cited the developer over the manure incident, and Stuck in the Rough responded on June 30. The district expects to make a decision within the next 30 days on whether to fine the developer over the incident.

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