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Poway Voters To Decide On New Housing For StoneRidge Golf Course

The view from the cart path along the north end of the StoneRidge Country Clu...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: The view from the cart path along the north end of the StoneRidge Country Club golf course in Poway, Oct. 10, 2017.

The only city in San Diego County going to the polls this Nov. 7 is Poway. The city is holding a special election to decide on Measure A, a citizens' initiative, paid for by a developer who wants to build condos on his golf course.

The StoneRidge Country Club in Poway is owned by Michael Schlesinger, a developer well-known for spreading tons of chicken manure on the Escondido Country Club fairways in 2015. Schlesinger has invested in a number of golf courses around California, and has used a number of different tactics to try to convince neighboring residents to let him build there.

The names chosen for the companies that own the courses follow a pattern: the Escondido Country Club is owned by Stuck in The Rough LLC. The Poway StoneRidge Country Club is owned by No Stone Left Unturned LLC.

The battle over the Escondido golf course is ongoing. The now brown and overgrown fairways are a stark example to Poway of what could be their fate if the developer does not get his way.

Photo credit: Green Valley Civic Association

A map of the StoneRidge golf course in Poway shows the area — highlighted in yellow — that would be affected by Measure A, October 2017.

Poway resident Mitch Steller lives next to the StoneRidge course and is an avid golfer — the famed St Andrews Links logo graces his golf club covers.

“We were nervous that we were going to lose our golf course," Steller said. “We were also nervous we were going to end up with a blighted area like what happened in Escondido.”

Steller is with Poway Open Space, a citizens group that negotiated a deal with Schlesinger to allow a zoning change that would permit 180 condominiums to be built on 25 acres of the 117-acre golf course. In return, the 18-hole golf course would be redesigned with a brand new clubhouse.

“We are realistic to understand the money had to come from someplace,” Steller said, “and so we set out with the goal to develop as little of the course as possible, still allowing the owner to make his profits but keep our golf course intact.“

A negotiated agreement in hand, Poway Open Space collected more than 6,000 signatures to put Measure A, a citizens initiative, on the ballot. But the developer, Schlesinger, paid the city of Poway the $400,000 it costs to hold a special election.

Schlesinger was not available to comment. His spokeswoman, Sara Ellis, discussed his efforts.

“Michael put together a team which included (home builder) CalAtlantic and a golf course architect to work with the citizens to put together a preliminary land-use plan,” Ellis said. "But this really is (the residents') plan, it’s not Michael’s plan, it’s their plan.”

Standing by a golf cart on the south end of the course, Ellis said that Poway residents actually will not be voting on this plan, because the initiative simply rezones some of the golf course so it could be developed.

“That’s what this initiative does,” she said. “It only rezones and then gives the city the opportunity to start having the conversation about what to do here.”

Photo by Matthew Bowler

A golf cart sits in the fairway on the south end of the StoneRidge Country Club in Poway, Oct. 10, 2017.

"No on A"

To succeed, Measure A will have to overcome residents’ fear, not just of denser development, but also lack of trust of this particular developer.

Brian Edmonston lives near the south end of the course and is part of the “No on A” campaign.

“We’ve looked up a number of the other developments that he’s done," Edmonston said, "and it’s been nothing but grief for the people around him.”

Edmonson said Schlesinger is in ugly battles with homeowners, not just in Escondido, but in places like Las Vegas and San Ramon. For Edmonston, the Poway golf course plan is just a promise. All the initiative does, he said, is remove the open space zoning from the south end of the golf course.

“It’s an off-year election vote that does nothing more than rezone it with a vague, vague promise of a golf course,” he said, “and after that, it’s every man for himself fighting for what exactly will be put up here.”

Poway’s housing record

Like many cities in San Diego, Poway has resisted new development. The last Regional Housing Needs Assessment, completed in 2013, said Poway needed to build 1,253 homes by 2020. Poway Development Director Bob Manis said the city has actually built just 194 units since 2010. He added that the city has not permitted any multifamily housing in decades.

The initiative that protects open space in Poway, Prop FF, was passed in 1988, and requires a vote of the people to change open space zoning. Manis said that since then, every initiative to try to change open space zoning has failed — most recently last November when Measure W failed to get voter support to build a hotel on part of the Maderas golf course.

Last year the Poway City Council controversially rejected a plan by Habitat for Humanity to build 22 affordable housing units for veterans. That decision caused some onlookers to throw up their hands in despair at the city’s refusal to agree to new affordable housing.

The housing Schlesinger is proposing to build is not affordable — it is luxury condos for seniors. However, Steller said he is not thinking about the need for new housing; he’s just glad the golf course will be preserved.

“It’s been a tough road to get here,” he said. “I think we got the best deal we can get.”

Edmonston noted that Steller lives on the north end of the existing golf course, which is not part of the land to be rezoned under the initiative.

“It’s the golfers in residence on the north side who are pushing this,” Edmonston said, “because they want to keep the golf course at the expense of the residents and golfers of the south side, because that’s where the condos will go.”

Poway Open Space has already spent at least $200,000 on its campaign, while the “No” voters have not raised enough money to file a statement with the registrar.

The battle over StoneRidge is the latest round in a land use struggle that is likely to affect golf courses around the region, as golf club memberships decline and the need for more housing becomes increasingly urgent.

Poway Voters To Decide On New Housing For StoneRidge Golf Course

GUEST:

Alison St John, KPBS North County Reporter

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