Country club owner issues ultimatum in Escondido
J. Harry Jones, November 16, 2017
residents hoped a narrow decision Wednesday by the Escondido
City Council to allow 380 homes to be built on the abandoned
Escondido Country Club property would put an end to a bitter
and divisive issue.
hopes were dashed Thursday when the owner of the property,
Michael Schlesinger, issued an ultimatum to opponents of the
project who said they are weighing whether to contest the
Slater, president of the Escondido Country Club Homeowners
Organization (ECCHO), said his group will decide this weekend
whether to file a lawsuit challenging the councils 3-2
that happens, Schlesinger said, the deal to have development
company New Urban West buy the land from him could well implode.
have had significant interest from a variety of developers,
particularly overseas developers, who are excited about the
opportunity to utilize state density bonus legislation that
would allow for a much denser project, some proposing as many
as 800 units, which would be allowed by law, he said.
I would welcome the opportunity to enjoy a significant economic
windfall created by this legislation and if New Urban West
is unable to close escrow due to continued litigation byECCHO,
I will not hesitate to select a new developer with the ability
to fully exploit this updated legislation and not be tied
to a two-year-old deal (with New Urban West) based on old
economics and outdated legislation.
refers to ECCHO as a small embittered group of residents
in the press release.
night, at the conclusion of a nearly five-hour-long public
hearing, a split city council voted to approve New Urban Wests
plans to build 380 homes on the fairways, greens and tees
of the 109-acre golf course.
Council members Olga Diaz, Mike Morasco and and Ed Gallo supported
the plans with Mayor Sam Abed and Deputy Mayor John Masson
and Masson both said they the project was too dense for the
area and would create too much traffic.
is a great project, Abed said, but you dont
put it in the middle of a well-established development.
the majority of the council, though clearly having no love
for Schlesinger, said the project seemed like a good one that
would be built by a respected company with a strong track
record in the city.
Urban West will buy the land from Schlesinger, but only once
all legal hurdles have been cleared.
Diaz said to the crowd of spectators at the meeting who were
mostly opposed to the project, for those folks who are
concerned about Mr. Schlesinger, the best way to get rid of
him is to have this deal go through and let New Urban West
said the courts have ruled the land is developable and the
plan before the council was the best one the council could
following the vote, Slater said, Its not over.
The groups directors, comprised of more than 300 property
owners in the country club neighborhood, will meet to decide
how to proceed. Options include filing a lawsuit challenging
the decision or perhaps pursuing a referendum that would ask
city voters next year to overturn the councils vote,
has experience gathering signatures for ballot initiatives.
In 2013, after Schlesinger purchased the country club property,
shut it down, and then announced plans to develop the land,
the opposition group gathered enough signatures to qualify
a referendum for a special election ballot. Instead, the city
council unanimously adopted the referendum as law, declaring
the property could be used only for recreational purposes
or open space.
about a year and a half later, a judge ruled that Schlesingers
rights were violated by the councils action because
when he bought the land he did so knowing it was zoned for
residential development and had the reasonable expectation
of being able to build on the property. That led to a settlement
of a lawsuit, which eventually led to Wednesday nights
members of the council spent more than an hour between the
five of them explaining their votes Wednesday night. For observers
of Escondido politics, it was a strange night. Abed and Masson
are pro-development, pro-business conservatives yet voted
against the project, while Diaz, the only Democrat on the
council, voted for the New Urban West plan.
Urban West issued a statement shortly after the vote that
hinted at its discomfort having to deal with Schlesinger:
now look forward to continuing our work with the community,
including the members of ECCHO, as we revitalize this once-prestigious
neighborhood, said New Urban West Project Manager Jonathan
Frankel. We have great respect for ECCHO and all theyve
endured over the years in their battle with the property owner.
With him now out of the picture forever, its time for
the community to heal and move forward together.
Escondido decision was a big victory for Schlesinger, who
needed one. Just last week, voters in Poway overwhelming rejected
a ballot measure that would have allowed him to build 180
condominiums on another country club he owns called Stoneridge.
The project would have allowed the golf course to continue
to operate, but voters rejected it by a 62 percent to 38 percent
margin. Within minutes of the vote being tallied, Schlesinger
followed through on threats he had made and closed the country
club. The next day, employees were packing boxes and collecting
their final paychecks.
Poway vote was brought up numerous times by speakers Wednesday
far as Poway is concerned, that was a huge mistake,
Morasco told the gathering. Think about back in day
one if there would have been an offer for 18 holes of golf,
maintained, with the caveat that some condominiums were going
to be built in certain areas to allow that. I think that most
of the people here would have been on board with that. Poway
doesnt know what theyre getting into. You guys
do know what theyre getting into, and its going
to be a disaster.
afternoon, Slater said he wasnt surprised by Schlesingers
threat and said it wont impact what the group decides
to do. He also said hes heard that another group of
residents who own homes on the golf course, unconnected to
ECCHO, are also considering filing their own lawsuit challenging
the citys decision.
DeLano, a local land-use attorney who has been hired by ECCHO
and would likely be the one to file a lawsuit on the groups
behalf, laughed out loud at Schlesingers news release.
someone has an image of what a bad developer is, this guy
is doing his best to show them they can go lower, he
said. I mean, youve got to be kidding me? To threaten