After nearly five years of inaction, fighting, lawsuits and decay, the Escondido City Council on November 15 rightly voted to support The Villages plan to reinvigorate the former Escondido Country Club, following in the footsteps of the city’s professional planning staff and Planning Commission which also endorsed the plan.
In casting his vote for The Villages, Planning Commission Chairman Jeff Webber, an area resident, said, “We need to stop fighting about it. We need to accept change and move forward.”
As leading supporters of The Villages, we the co-founders of Renew Our Country Club (ROCC) couldn’t agree more.
The project, by respected developer New Urban West, will not only bring closure to our community after years of acrimony, it will bring a whole host of new amenities, including a massive greenbelt that will wind through the neighborhood, and a new clubhouse with a restaurant and bar – a gathering place that will allow us to come together as a community once again.
While the ECCHO board considers whether to file a lawsuit against the City challenging the Council approval, ROCC and its 300 members believe it’s time to put the past behind us and begin the healing process.
We certainly respect ECCHO for all they’ve done over the years on behalf of our community.
But continuing to delay the inevitable development of the abandoned golf course will only lead to more decay, more division in our neighborhood, and a further erosion of our property values. Instead of seeing the blighted clubhouse and chain link fence come down, we will all be left to wonder if a much worse proposal is coming forward from property owner Michael Schlesinger.
As was discussed at the City Council hearing, if the current plan is delayed, a larger, denser plan could be coming our way thanks to recently-adopted state legislation meant to create more affordable housing for low-income residents.
Under California’s revised Density Bonus Law, which went into effect in January, approximately 800 units could legally be built on the golf course – more than twice as many as proposed under The Villages plan. The law allows developers to exceed certain local zoning restrictions in exchange for providing subsidized affordable housing within their project.
And following the City Council’s vote, the property owner stated his intention to pursue a larger development if The Villages gets delayed by ECCHO.
Ironically, the only person who benefits from a lawsuit is the property owner, who now regains complete control of the property in the event New Urban West cannot purchase the land. He is now free to pursue his “windfall” by exercising his rights under state law, dispensing with the trails, greenbelts and amenities for as many houses as possible. It is convenient for ECCHO to ignore this reality by claiming it cannot happen. Remember when they said that the abandoned golf course was protected open space and no homes could be built? And it simply defies common sense to think that the owner would not pursue what he is entitled to under state law.
In addition, filing suit against our City potentially puts millions of taxpayer dollars at risk. The City has already spent at least $500,000 of public funds defending ECCHO’s illegal “open space initiative.” We can all agree that the City has more important priorities that desperately need funding. Any further legal actions by ECCHO or an ECCHO-sponsored third party organization will mean less money for our police, emergency responders, our schools and children.
When you look at the facts, fighting The Villages plan presents a tremendous risk, potentially resulting in a much worse development and years of continued fighting. Quite simply, ECCHO should not gamble with our future and sow further division by pursuing a lawsuit.
As a community, we have engaged in a spirited and robust public debate about the future of our neighborhood. We presented our ideas to the leaders we elected to make informed, reasoned and rational decisions. And they spoke with their votes.
For the good of our community and our City, this fight needs to end. We’ve all been through enough. And enough is enough.
Finsterbusch and Flemings are founding members of Renew Our Country Club.