The former Escondido Country Club is comatose. The scientists are trying to figure out how to reanimate it. Everyone wants something to happen. The question is, what kind of THING will we get?
The Escondido City Council adopted The Villages, the Special Planning Area initiative by New Urban West Inc. It allows for 383 homes in a variety of configurations, including unattached single family homes, some patio homes and some attached condos. It includes 3 different villages, with a variety of architectural designs and price ranges. There is controversy over whether it is too dense and modern to assimilate into the existing community.
But there is a bigger question that is still unanswered.
The question is, was the Council acting legally when they adopted the NUWI Special Planning Area ordinance? Did they exceed their authority under the Escondido General Plan?
After the Planning Commision agreed with the builders recommendations, the City Council adopted their initiative reducing zoning limitations to include R1-12 lots. This means that some units will be built on lots that are only 3200 sq. ft., or half what the original R1-7 zoning overlay allows.
But here is the rub; Proposition S, which was approved by Escondido voters on a ballot measure during the 1998 election and became effective January 1, 1999, clearly states that any increase in local zoning allowances, when applied to existing communities like the Country Club area, must be voted upon by the citizens, not simply adopted by the council.
The People of the City of Escondido do ordain as follows:
Proposition S SECTION 1. AMENDMENT OF THE GENERAL PLAN.
A. The following shall be added to the General Plan as GP Amendment Policy E 2.3: Permitted land uses in the residential areas of the City shall be intensified only when the voters approve such changes. No General Plan Amendment or new Specific Planning Area shall be adopted which would:
1) increase the residential density permitted by law,
2) change, alter, or increase the General Plan Residential Land Use categories,
3) or change any residential to commercial or industrial designation on any property designated as: Rural Estate Suburban Urban unless and until such action is approved and adopted by the voters of the City at a special or general election, or approved first by the City Council and then adopted by the voters in such election.
Seems clear to me…so how did this happen? The planning commission, which is essentially volunteers vetted and appointed by the council and made up of people who have a basic understanding of urban planning, was clearly smitten by NUWI and overwhelmingly recommended their plan be approved.
The council voted 3 to 2 to adopt the initiative. The member who represents the Country Club community voted against it, as did the Mayor. Locals homeowners were essentially disenfranchised.
ECCHO, the community organization that has been battling this project, claims that environmental issues were given short shrift too. So they have filed a suit to have a judge review the entire process to determine if laws were violated and if so, what does that mean about the status of the project?
Specific issues addressed in ECCHO’s lawsuit include:
- City Council failure to submit the Villages Specific Plan to a public vote as required by Proposition S.
- City Council approval of a project that violates zoning, density and neighborhood compatibility requirements of the General Plan.
- In its rush to approve the project, they overlooked a city planning statute which requires they seriously consider the ECCHO plan for development of 158 homes on the Country Club property as a less impactful alternative..
The Escondido Country Club community is zoned (from the General Plan):
Urban 1 Estate: (up to 5.5 dwelling units per acre) "Detached single-family homes, characteristic of much of Escondido, constitute this medium density category. In addition, mobile homes, patio homes, and zero-lot-line developments are permitted in this category. Typical development at this density is found along Country Club Lane and between Ash and Citrus north of Washington. The minimum lot size shall be 6,000 square feet unless the development is clustered in accordance with the provisions in Chapter VII Implementation."
NUWI wants to increase the density to:
URBAN II Estate: (up to 12.0 dwelling units per gross acre). "This residential classification allows a wide range of living accommodations, ranging from conventional single-family units to mobile homes."
The General Plan states clearly that higher density projects should only be allowed when "adjacent to parks and other open spaces, along transit routes and major and secondary thoroughfares, and near recreational activity centers, libraries, shopping centers, and entertainment areas. Development at this level of intensity normally would be semi-detached or attached units, and include duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes. Urban II serves as a buffer between low density residential areas and areas of higher density, commercial activities with greater traffic and noise levels. Typical Urban II development is found on North Broadway between Lincoln and Sheridan Avenues, and Cirrus Avenue between Valley Parkway and the Flood Control Channel."
The golf course land is not a 'buffer' zone. It is integral to the existing single-family, retirement-themed community. The Villages plan is in direct conflict with the Country Club neighborhood, which has little open space (once the golf course goes away), no rapid transit, no recreational activity centers, libraries, shopping centers, or community entertainment areas. Any new recreational facilities would be reserved for use by the homeowners, or dues paying outside members.
NUWI suggests that amenities like the pool, the herb & veggie garden, and the outdoor theatre would all be open to use by anyone who pays a membership fee. But that belies the claim that the golf course had to close due to lack of community support. What happens if not enough people buy in? Do all of these community amenities dry up? Will the city have to step in? Who is going to pay for pool lifeguards? Or a stage manager for the theatre, or gymnasium operators? If the costs are ultimately the responsibility of The Villages HOA, you can be sure there will be no one from the 'old' community using them.
How is that 'restoring' our community? Sounds like a lot of pie in the sky promises that builders are known to make and seldom keep.
If we accept the fact that the property must be redeveloped, and I think we can all agree we have, then the only reason there is a legal conflict is to determine what the nature of the new community is going to be. I think it is also fair to say that everyone wants the community to be restored to a functional community. Meaning all of us living together with shared interests and goals.
One of the difficulties is that there is no precedent for this kind of restoration. That's because it is not restoration. When you put a modern urban development inside a fifty-year-old sub-urban development, you get a Frankenstein.