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New Round In Escondido Country Club Development Saga

Photo credit: New Urban West

Developer New Urban West's graphic on an invitation to an open house at the now closed Escondido Country Club, July 11, 2016.

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A developer has plans for an Escondido golf course that was shuttered more than three years ago. The developer, New Urban West, will hold an open house this weekend at the Escondido Country Club to explore options for building on the 110-acre site.

Hundreds of residents living around the now dry, brown golf greens have fought development on the course. The residents may be more willing to compromise now than when the previous developer, Stuck in the Rough, dumped chicken manure on the fairways.

That move, by then-developer Michael Schlesinger, was part of his 2014 campaign against opponents of the plan to build hundreds of homes there. The county fined Schlesinger $100,000 for dumping the manure.

Photo by Alison St John

The Escondido Country Club golf course, which turned brown after the owner, Stuck In The Rough LLC, said in 2012 it was no longer profitable and stopped watering the greens, August 2014.

Schlesinger still owns the course, and though he has won a lawsuit affirming his right to develop the land, he has opted to let other developers try their hand at negotiating a project with the neighbors.

Jason Han of New Urban West Inc. has held meetings and written open letters to the community.

“Thank you for inviting the New Urban West team into your homes during these past several weeks. Over the course of 39 meetings, listening to 353 residents, we learned a lot. These conversations help us better understand the range of what the community values most. Your stories and memories help us begin to forge a design response that we hope will ultimately be desirable and economically viable,” he wrote.

Mike Slater, president of an Escondido homeowners group that opposed Schlesinger’s original development plans, said there’s no telling how residents will react to the new developer’s suggestions.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. “My feeling is they will not be happy with just a restaurant, lounge, swimming pool, meeting rooms and a linear park. But New Urban West was not including in their plans — at least the ones we saw — any of the residential component."

The number of houses that could be built on the land is a key issue. Schlesinger initially proposed more than 600 homes and then later 270. Residents rejected both.

Slater said some people may still be holding out for a nine-hole golf course as part of the plan.

"I know there’s a strong element in the community that’s 'No golf, no development,'" Slater said. “So whether they win out or not, I don’t know. Maybe people are ready to compromise. Who knows?"

In one letter to the community, Han refers to the possibility of a smaller golf course, but with a caveat:

"And of course, many of you — especially those who live on the golf course — would like to see at least a 9-hole golf course. That said, we also heard adamantly from many of you that you don’t want further assessments — you view them as a tax and that doesn’t sit well with you."

Meanwhile, Schlesinger has purchased another golf course in Poway: StoneRidge. It is still in operation, though Schlesinger has tried unsuccessfully to sell it and has even offered to give part of it to the city of Poway in return for development rights. However development on the course may need to go to a vote of the people, under Proposition FF, passed in 1988.

The Escondido Country Club is one of three North County golf courses that have closed recently. The well-regarded San Luis Rey Golf Course in Bonsall is closed, with plans underway to turn it into a land bank. Carmel Highlands in Rancho Peñasquitos has also closed, after the rising price of water and falling interest in golf made it no longer profitable.

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