Club neighbors bracing for next development battle
J. Harry Jones, July 29, 2017
before they’ve won big victories, but the hundreds of members
of the Escondido Country Club Homeowner’s Organization (ECCHO)
are back to square one and facing perhaps their biggest challenge
yet over the future of the club’s former golf course.
before the year is out, the Escondido City Council will decide
whether to let developer New Urban West build 392 homes on
the property, which is still owned by real estate investor
and entrepreneur Michael Schlesinger.
company, which would ultimately purchase the land from Schlesinger,
says the project will reinvigorate the blighted area. The
developer also points out that the number of proposed homes
is 35 percent less that what could legally be built on the
a smaller group of neighbors appears to agree, ECCHO isnt
Schlesinger along with New Urban West continue to let the
property go downhill and then they have the audacity to say
they will be the white knight and make the place beautiful
again and we only have to allow them to build 392 homes,
said ECCHO President Mike Slater during a community meeting
this week. Chicken manure, I say.
the developers plan, a green buffer zone would separate
the new homes from the older ones and trails would flow throughout
the development. A new clubhouse would include a restaurant,
pool and tennis courts.
changes will increase property values and improve the whole
neighborhood, said Mike Finsterbusch, a founding member of
Renew Our Country Club, a homeowners group on the flip side
of ECCHO that claims to have about 250 members.
tired of looking at the conditions in my neighborhood,
said Finsterbusch, referencing how the site has deteriorated
while the development plans have been in limbo. Its
bringing down the property values and its bringing in
an element I do not like. Im motivated to see change
and see it quickly.
struggling golf course was shut down in early 2013, shortly
after Schlesinger purchased the land. He announced plans to
develop the property and said the existing zoning allowed
for as many as 600 houses.
community which was built around the fairways, with
hundreds of homes lining the course galvanized and
ECCHO was born. The group successfully gathered signatures
on an initiative declaring the property permanent open space,
and the City Council adopted the measure without a public
before the council adopted the open space initiative Schlesinger
had filed a lawsuit arguing the move amounted to an illegal
taking of his land by rendering the property nearly
worthless. He also launched his own citizens initiative, asking
voters to overturn the councils decision and to allow
430 homes on the property.
Schlesinger outspent ECCHO 10-1 in the campaign, his initiative
was routed in the November 2014 election, with 61 percent
of voters against and 39 percent in favor. The defeat was
a major win for ECCHO.
victory was short-lived, however. In Schlesingers lawsuit,
a judge ultimately ruled that the propertys zoning allowed
homes and denying Schlesinger the chance to profit from his
land was a violation of his rights.
City Council then settled the lawsuit, agreeing to let Schlesinger
pick a new developer to come up with a new proposal for the
site. In stepped New Urban West, whose representatives spent
a year meeting with the community to draft a new development
project they submitted to the citys Planning Department
called for 392 homes, the minimum number the company said
was needed to make the venture profitable.
again balked. Its leaders have said they realize the golf
course will never return, but that the community requires
a more reasonable and responsible development.
They have suggested a maximum of 158 homes, arguing that any
more will destroy the character of the community and bring
traffic nightmares to an area already dealing with too many
draft environment impact report for the project is now being
circulated, and on Monday city planners will discuss the report
at an informal community meeting, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. in the
Mitchell Room at City Hall. People can submit written comments
about the report until Aug. 11.
week ECCHO held another community meeting that attracted at
least 250 people to a church in the neighborhood. Slater was
given a standing ovation from the combative crowd when he
took the stage.
may not have the financial resources of New Urban West but
we do have something else, he said. We live in
this community and we vote. The owner and the developer do
not live here and they do not vote. We have to remind the
mayor and the City Council that we vote.
Sam Abed said at a Town Hall meeting recently he wont
accept 392 homes on the property, but is open to a compromise.
Whether New Urban West is willing to lower the number is unknown.
goes into this next stage of development battle without a
key player. Escondido attorney Ken Lounsbery, who has been
working with the group since it was formed, has bowed out
because his law firm represents New Urban West in an unrelated
has been replaced by Everett DeLano, a local land use attorney
who often butts heads with the Escondido City Council.
ECCHO has also recently hired a new public relations consultant,
Erica Holloway, who in 2013 represented Schlesinger and was
quoted numerous times defending his right to develop the property.
said Holloway was recommend to the group, came at the right
price, and will work from her home in Houston.
helping us out doing what she can to get us on the right message,
Slater said. She seems to know a lot about the workings
of these developers and shes very happy to go against
stopped working for Schlesinger in 2014 when he went with
another public relations firm. She declined to be interviewed
for this story.