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Housing projects subject of Escondido meetings

By J. Harry Jones, March 3, 2015

ESCONDIDO — Two potential housing projects in Escondido — one near approval and the other far from it — will be up for discussion this week during separate meetings at City Hall.

Wednesday night, the City Council will decide whether to sign off on the 65-home upscale Oak Creek residential development proposed just north of Felicita County Park.

On Thursday night, the city’s planning staff will hold a public workshop on what the community would like to see happen with the Escondido Country Club land. The property is at the center a legal battle over whether its current designation as permanent open space can stand, or whether its owner can eventually move forward with some kind of development at the site.

The Oak Creek proposal won unanimous Planning Commission approval in January and, although some Escondido residents oppose the project, the council is expected to approve it.

As part of that approval, the council will have to vote to annex the 37-acre property into the city so residents can get city water and be protected by city police and firefighters.

Developer New Urban West — a Santa Monica-based company that built the communities of Ranchos at Vistamonte in the San Pasqual Valley and Brookside in north Escondido — has spent years trying to address residents’ concerns about the project.

Still, some opposition remains. In a letter sent Monday on behalf of a citizens group called Escondido Neighbors United, environmental lawyer Everett DeLano asked the council to deny the project for numerous reasons including concerns about a toxic plume from a decades-old Superfund site that runs under part of the property.

DeLano said the city has failed to respond adequately to questions concerning the plume and other issues such as community character and density.

The project would be built on a parcel of land bordered by Felicita Road to the west, Hamilton Road to the north, and Miller Avenue to the east.

While the council meeting is the final hurdle that must be cleared before construction can begin on Oak Creek, Thursday’s workshop on the Country Club site marks the very beginning of a process that could take years.

Technically, the workshop is a prelude to the planning staff drawing up new zoning designations for the 121-acre Country Club property.

In August 2013, the Escondido council voted to adopt an initiative that reclassified the golf course under the city’s General Plan as permanent open space. The reclassification also required the City Council to rezone the property from residential to open space within two years. The rezoning process was delayed when Country Club owner Michael Schlesinger put a different initiative on the ballot asking voters to overturn the council’s actions. That failed in November.

The original initiative is the subject of a lawsuit brought against the city by Schlesinger. Next week a judge is set to rule on whether the council’s open-space designation was appropriate or if it violated the rules that govern General Plan amendments because it targeted a single piece of property.

Nevertheless, the city’s Director of Community Development Barbara Redlitz said the planning workshop will take place. She pointed out that whatever the judge decides will likely be appealed. Meanwhile, she said, the city needs to keep going with the process while the courts contemplate the matter.

Many people are expected at Thursday’s workshop. The Escondido Country Club Homeowner’s Organization — which gathered the signatures needed to qualify the original initiative for the ballot — is encouraging its hundreds of members to show up and tell the city what they envision for the property.

A recent survey of ECCHO’s membership showed that 87 percent said they wanted some golf element to be included with any housing development plan — perhaps a nine-hole course.

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