But the underlying fact is that the City has no interest in moving forward on Michael Schlesinger's redevelopment plans for the abandoned Escondido Country Club at this time. And due to the way that court decisions and appeals operate, apparently they don't have to.
Mr. Schlesinger responded to the ruling issued by Judge Maas, vacating the Citizens Property Rights Initiative adopted by the Council back in August 2013, by submitting a newly revised housing plan for his 'The Lakes' subdivision. This was a subtle, and legal, way to embrace the Judge's decision, and to offer a plan with 37% fewer homes than his last submission. It was viewed by some as a modest compromise effort to get his project back on track after his ambitious 430 home plan was voted down by Escondido voters.
But Schlesinger had to have known this would be a non-starter. He is still suing the City for $100 million under a 'taking' claim, and the City is still considering its option to appeal the ruling declaring the Citizens Property Rights Initiative invalid because it violated constitutional guarantees of equal treatment under the law. Judge Maas decided the statute qualified as 'spot zoning' meaning the action the City took to declare the golf course property permanent open space, was inconsistent with the prior zoning and was aimed directly, and specifically at private property owned by Schlesinger. Schlesinger knows the City was under no obligation to rescind its current statute at this time.
The City has taken the position that the Citizens Property Rights Initiative did not in fact 'spot zone' the golf course. The area that the golf course occupies was designated 'open space/park/golf course use only' by Escondido Planning Commission Resolution 389 as a part of a Special Use Permit that guaranteed the golf course use designation 'runs with the land.' The Citizens initiative/statute simply reinforced that determination and therefore no rezoning occurred, and therefore the suit, and the Judge's ruling, are based on an incorrect interpretation of what the initiative actually did.
From the City's perspective, the citizens initiative could not 'take' the value of Mr. Schlesinger's property, because the land was not zoned for residential in the first place. He bought a golf course and that is what he got.The zoning was not changed, it was confirmed by the initiative and a unanimous vote of the City Council to adopt it. Therefore all of the recent legal challenges were based on a specious zoning conflict brought about for the benefit of a real estate speculator who is seeking ways to add value to land that was otherwise in financial trouble.
Since that case is still in litigation, and the City, by law, has a one year period to decide if it wants to appeal the ruling, it has decided the best course of action is no action.They did, however, spell out a series of specific requirements that will have to be met, when and if, the illusive residential zoning is changed by the courts to allow for residential construction.
The list is extensive and will be expensive to fulfill. The City is asking for increased parking for homeowner recreational areas, a tree survey to assess the impact of loss of habitat and species, more extensive grading specifications, complete architectural elevations, a construction phasing plan/schedule, complete landscape and irrigation specifications, extensive and supported traffic impact and mitigation analysis and plans, extensive and supported drainage impact specifications and mitigation plans, water quality report and wastewater study of infrastructure requirements and any impact remediation plans.
And that is not all. The letter also explores issues the planning department may raise during future plan reviews and mentions the planning departments desired compatibility concerns with existing community homes. It also recommends a 'buffer' zone separating new residential units from existing homes.
It also demands a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which will include most if not all recommended reports on greenhouse gas, cultural/palaeontological noise, and soils analysis.
This is only a brief summary of the letter, which goes into extensive detail and requests complete data analysis and drawings and plans where applicable.
Finally, but most importantly, the letter notes that for the application to be complete, any and all encroachment litigation will need to be 'adequately resolved.'
That is good news to those who are currently living under a cloud of intimidation from lawsuits over minor, and in almost all cases, corrected incidences where gardens and lawns, fences or crib walls were placed on the wrong side of the golf course perimeter property lines.
The City is making it plain that should SITR get the right to build residential structures, they are going to be held to strict standards and demands of community propriety.
This is not a shot over the bow, but it is a sobering document that points out that the road ahead is going to be an expensive, long, slow and winding road.