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ECCHO will put community and city at risk by fighting recently-approved country club plan

~ Guest Opinion

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.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

9 responses to “ECCHO will put community and city at risk by fighting recently-approved country club plan”

  1. Excellent points made….and the additional burden of vandalism and fires put local residents at risk and push property values even lower…as a resident of the Country Club neighborhood I feel we’re being held hostage by ECCHO….. their actions make no sense to me and we must move forward.

  2. Noel says:

    Nice try still using scare tactics. Sorry we the community voted twice in public elections no in this project as presented. What part of following what is already on the books as ok to do can people not understand. Greed is beyond belief.

  3. Mary says:

    This is an incredibly biased story. You don’t put 380 condos right in the middle of a well established neighborhood. The construction is set for a minimum of 5 and a half years, or more, depending on the market. That is horrible – to make the residents endure five and a half years or more of construction behind their houses in order to build a sea of condos. Why does it have to be that many condos? Why not 150? Also, there is not going to be a massive greenbelt. Look at the developer’s map and you will see that there are only a few, small green areas. It will be mostly roads (what they call “open space”) and 6-unit condos.

  4. Mark says:

    As a home owner in this community, it is more important to accept the change, recommendations of the planning commission, and the vote of the city council. Our community will heal with improved roads, a community center, and developed land. Unfortunately, with ECCHO, there are big egos that will maintain a “refuse to lose” mindset. As a result, common sense will not prevail. I fully expect ECCHO will do everything they can to stop this project. It take years to find an alternative, which will not be better than the Villages. Let this project go through. If you do not like it, sell and move somewhere else.

    • The real DT says:

      Good idea @Mark to sell and move. After all hope is gone and the bully and his minions start to build, I will sell and move – leaving you and your myopic ilk to dwell in the bowels of over-development and all that it brings.

  5. The real James woods says:

    I have said this all along!! We are being held hostage by a greedy financial terrorist!! And the price for our freedom is too high ! Our beautiful neighborhood is too high a price to pay!! All we are left with are precious memories of laughter and golf!! My retirement dream has been stolen by a crook!!

  6. DJ says:

    Buddy and Mike,

    Did I just see, in the piece that your broke a portion of the writers creed and a commonly helpful action by using an acronym “ECCHO” without providing the words that it is created for?

    My hunch is you would really appreciate building a higher readership. I for one may read less from you two now that I know you don’t inform your readers appropriately.

    Please don’t assume all of your readers are only those that know what ECCHO stands for.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    DJ

  7. SoCal Baker says:

    800 units while in theory is possible to build, but in practice is impossible to build because you need to build roads and sidewalks and setbacks and green space and even if every lot of the villages were 1000 sqft lots you could not build 800 homes. Don’t forget if the law suit is successful that the devopment violates prop s then more houses will still be violation. If the suit fails and the approved villages are scrapped in favor of some other spite development then it will have to contend with a full EIR and additional items which the villages did not have to do. So we are talking years of planning and millions more in costs in order to try to build 800 homes. But don’t forget also according to the latest California Supreme Court Rulling that large developments must reduce greenhouse emissions, which adds more costs.

    • Jean K says:

      800 units would not necessarily be individual homes. Smaller condos and apartment style housing would also be appropriate for low-income housing. The new California Affordable Housing laws take precedence over local zoning. The housing bills provide new funding for low-income housing development, seek to lower the cost of construction, fast-track building, and restrict the ability of cities and counties to block new development. One of the bills lets developers bypass the lengthy and often expensive review process for new housing development, which includes extensive environmental analysis and public hearings. Another strengthens the state’s Housing Accountability Act, which seeks to prevent communities from killing proposed housing projects or homeless shelters. The law aims to make it more difficult for cities and counties to vote down proposals and requires courts to impose fines on them if they do not comply with what is commonly called the “anti-NIMBY law.” That law seeks to limit the “Not-In-My-Back-Yard” backlash from neighbors and anti-development activists that often stalls new development or reduces the size of a project. And the list goes on…

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