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Escondido Golf Course Saga Ends Up Back Before City Council

The site of the former Escondido Country Club golf course, where a developmen...

Photo by Alison St John

Above: The site of the former Escondido Country Club golf course, where a development called "The Villages" is proposed, July 3, 2017.

Another battle over whether to build on a North County golf course is in the news this week. The Escondido City Council is slated to vote Wednesday night on whether to resolve nearly five years of legal wrangling over plans to build homes on a now-closed country club.

Just last week, Poway residents rejected Measure A, which would have allowed a developer to build 180 condos on a local golf course. The golf course would have been redesigned and reopened, but following the vote, the owner, Michael Schlesinger, closed the facility.

The Escondido City Council will vote on plans to build 380 homes on the former Escondido Country Club, also owned by Schlesinger, who shuttered it in 2013. Any plans to revive the fairways are long gone.

The country clubs are just two of the golf courses Schlesinger has purchased in Southern California, banking on the idea that golf is declining in popularity and new housing is increasingly in demand.

There are differences in the challenges facing Schlesinger in Poway and Escondido. Poway’s course was zoned as open space and the city passed an ordinance decades ago that prohibited changing that zoning without a public vote.

Meanwhile, Escondido’s course is zoned for housing. According to the zoning, the Escondido Country Club could have up to 600 homes built on it. The city has lost its legal battle to block development. The courts have upheld Schlesinger's right to develop the property.

When Schlesinger originally closed the course in 2013, saying it was no longer financially viable, he proposed to build 283 single family homes. After he met community resistance, he contracted with a developer, New Urban West, which has held several town halls and come up with its own plan.

Photo credit: New Urban West

Part of the plan for "The Villages," a housing development proposed by New Urban West for the former Escondido Country Club golf course. Nov 2017

New Urban West’s proposal is for three “villages” with 380 homes, including 188 condos. Almost half the 109 acres will be classified as open space, with landscaped buffer zones of between 50 and 200 feet between the new homes and the existing houses built around what was the golf course.

City staff have determined that the project would result in significant unavoidable long-term cumulative traffic impacts on Interstate 15 at El Norte Parkway.

The Escondido Planning Commission voted 5 to 1 to recommend the city council approve the project

Planning Commission Chair Jeff Weber said the course should be approved.

“I couldn’t find a reason in my review of all this to say ‘no, this is not an acceptable product,’" he said. “There isn’t any reason to not approve it."

But public input at the planning commission meeting was evenly split, with 59 speaker slips submitted in support of the project, and 60 submitted in opposition.

Weber said it’s time for the community to heal, though he acknowledged the City Council has a tough decision.

“I think anything like this is difficult,” he said, “for the simple reason that this has been a long and frustrating process for a lot of members in the neighborhood, people who live around the course.”

Schlesinger created outrage among residents when he spread chicken manure on the fairways in 2014, creating an odor that earned him a $100,000 fine from the County Air Pollution Control District.

The outcome of Wednesday night’s vote will determine if litigation continues, or preparations for building begin.

Another battle over whether to build on a North County golf course is in the news this week. The Escondido City Council votes Wednesday night on whether to resolve nearly five years of legal wrangling over plans to build homes on a now-closed country club.

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