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Escondido golf course fate goes to ballot

After the collection of 9,000 signatures, the Escondido City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to place a plan for 430 homes on the 110-acre Escondido Country Club property on the November ballot.

The project known as "The Lakes at Escondido" also calls for 5.7 acres of parks, buffer areas, trails, a 10,000-square-foot community center, an Olympic-size pool and tennis courts on the now-closed golf course property.

The amenities would be available for public use and maintained on behalf of the city.

The community center is proposed to be constructed prior to occupancy of the “residential areas.”

However, if the approval of a financing plan for the ongoing maintenance of the community center is delayed for reasons beyond control of the developer, the specific plan states that occupancy permits may be issued for the residences .

The Escondido City Council effectively rejected the controversial project last August.

Beverly Hills developer Stuck in the Rough, headed by Michael Schlesinger, then filed a lawsuit in Superior Court alleging the city had no legal right to declare what was residentially-zoned land as permanent open space and that the vote constituted a regulatory taking of the property.

The lawsuit is ongoing, though Stuck in the Rough said the damages would be sharply reduced if voters approve the project.

On Tuesday, the city of Escondido distributed a report expressing concerns about traffic, open space and blocked views as a result of the two-story homes at The Lakes.

Escondido wrote that the project "would alter the existing country club community, effectively eliminating the established theme and vision created for the area."

The city has stated numerous concerns, including that the project would place two-story residences adjacent to single-story properties.

The Escondido report further argued that the project densities, along with reduced rear-yard setbacks, may also be incompatible with existing homes surrounding the golf course.

"Since its construction, the Country Club golf course has served as a scenic resource for the community substantiated by the residential development patterns that orient toward the golf course," according to the city's report. "Public roadways that serve the community extend along the golf course perimeter and traverse fairways in multiple locations offering unobstructed views of the grounds and surrounding hillsides."

Schlesinger, Stuck in the Rough managing member, said there are numerous buffers throughout the development so that the vast majority of homeowners who surround the closed course would not see their views blocked.

As for the traffic, the city said the roads around the development would still need to accommodate 5,000 average daily trips at buildout.

Schlesinger said the traffic situation would be improved because people wouldn't have to drive around the golf course anymore.

A Keyser Marston report commissioned by Stuck in the Rough (SITR) said the project is expected to generate $83 million in economic benefit, including $17 million in payroll. The work is expected to employ 155 workers during the projected two-year construction period.

The city of Escondido reported that assuming an average sales price of between $450,000 to $500,000 for the 430 homes on the 3,650 to 7,000-square-foot lots, the annual property tax revenue at buildout is estimated between $251,000 to $279,000.

This would be offset by maintenance and operations costs for city facilities and services to serve the new residents, including police and fire service, road maintenance, library, parks and open space, however.

The city argues that water could be another issue. The specific plan area proposed by the SITR Initiative is within Rincon Del Diablo Municipal Water District (Rincon) and the city of Escondido (west of Gary Lane). Service for the former golf course was provided by a combination of city, Rincon and well water.

The specific plan indicates that the entire development would be supplied with Rincon water; that may involve SITR needing to reach an accord with Rincon before it can proceed.

Schlesinger said that water should not be a problem for the development, as the golf course was using 1 million gallons per month. "We're going to have a 50-percent reduction," he added.

Although the city argued the development would actually use more water than the course had, Schlesinger said the city had omitted two meters from its survey of the course when it was still operating. The course closed in April 2013.

"The course had about 500 members at its peak a few years ago. It only had 120 members when it closed," Schlesinger said.

SITR paid $7.43 million to purchase the Escondido property out of foreclosure in December 2012.

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Escondido Country Club

1800 W. Country Club Lane
Escondido, CA 92026