Surprised? I'm Not.
The planning commission's decision to approve 'The Villages' plan submitted by New Urban West was predictable. I hoped against hope that they would return the submission with recommendations to reduce the density.
But it was clear to me, after listening to nearly fifty 2-minute community pleas, followed by the commissioners comments, that the whole thing was preordained.
In hindsight, the truth is... MONEY TALKS.
As a community of mostly blue-hairs, we never stood a chance against the powerful forces of gentrification.
Watching my neighbors stand before the commissioners, it was impossible not to notice the generational divide; the pro-plan supporters were nearly all younger, family-oriented millennials who have taken advantage of the suppressed property values since the whole mess started five years ago. Most of them have taken up residency in that interim, so they have no connection to the wonderful community spirit we had for almost a half a century. All they have experienced is anger and resentment.
They talked about their dreams of building a 'New Community' as though the 'Old One' was outdated and falling apart. I found that to be insulting and insensitive. The only part of our neighborhood that is dysfunctional is the purposely desecrated fairways. There is only one person responsible for that, and his decision to make the place look terrible, allow graffiti and crime to exist, and to kill off the natural habitat, was the cornerstone of his strategy to divide and conquer the community.
As many of the pro-plan speakers said, they want to come home to a place that is safe and attractive. We had that for a long time, and when it was purposely destroyed so a developer could realize a personal fortune, it was heartbreaking.
Are many of us bitter? Of course! Who wouldn't be, we lost a loved one….
With so many millions at stake, the property owner paid professionals to make the recalcitrant homeowners out to be the 'Villains'. But give the PR pros credit, they did a great job! They painted us as obstructionists, selfish and narrow minded. They created a whole storyline of how it is time to move on, to create A New Little Corner of Paradise, where the old one once was. Talk about pouring salt into an open wound!
As for the newcomers who have adopted our neighborhood as their future? They didn't build this community and have to watch it die an unnatural death, so maybe we can forgive them for blaming us for it's demise. They don't know what they don't know. They just got here, relatively speaking. We absolutely cannot blame them for finding this area to be a wonderful place to build a future! On that we are all in agreement!
They said they were sad that this situation had split the community, then turned around and voiced their support for a plan to divide the community into a series of fenced villages. We will see how that works out...
We are living in a different time; people are looking for a different lifestyle experience than we were. Sitting at stop lights for ten minutes at a time doesn't seem to be a problem. It is to be expected, according to one of the planning commissioners.
I have never felt any animosity towards those that want to redevelop the old golf course. Their future is not at the center of the conflict. Perhaps the existing, long term homeowners had an unrealistic fantasy that in some way we could pass along the same kind of poetic, Rockwell-painting lifestyle we enjoyed for so many years. Believe it or not, our intentions were very noble and might I say, unselfish. Most of us won't be around long enough to see the completion and maturation of the new Frankenstein.
Our community hasn't been the same since the Country Club was put out of business. As I said in my book 'The Neighbor Hood Hijacker: The Heroic Effort to Stop the Plundering of Our Community', all things must pass.
If the Escondido City Council chooses to accept the commission's recommendations, the neighborhood will be transformed into an urban landscape mirroring those in the overcrowded, traffic congested conglomeration of discordant communities up in Temecula. A variety of little enclaves with no connection to each other, all with different architectural styles and a huge price and demographic differentiation between the old and the new.
The iconic Escondido Country Club neighborhood is going to assume a new identity at some point. I guess a good moniker might be "The Beverly Villages" as a 'tribute' to the driving force behind it's creation.
I have been asked a million times, "Why doesn't ECCHO have their own plan?" The answer is, ECCHO doesn't own the property. But, the ECCHO legal team has developed an alternative plan to the New Urban West 392 unit Master Plan called "The Villages." And it has been submitted to the city planning commission.
The idea is to demonstrate that another approach will provide the amenities and quality of life the community wants and needs without up-zoning the property to a much higher density allowance. The ECCHO plan fits within the current Escondido General Plan density conditions (R1-7) and delivers lots of open space, walking and biking trails, community services and most importantly, it doesn't require a major facelift of the existing terrain and character of the neighborhood.
Of course the 158 unit plan would ultimately have to be approved by the city council, and the property owner would have to dramatically reduce the price he is currently asking (which we can only speculate is upwards of $150K per 3200 square foot lot), but we can hope.
The owner is trying to hit the Mega Jackpot by flipping land he paid a mere $2.3M for back in 2012. Imagine, paying just $2.3M for 110 acres of relatively flat land in favorable North San Diego County, adjacent to two major freeways and just 20 minutes from downtown San Diego!
That deal may go down as the Great Escondido Terrain Robbery of 2012! Right now, in 2017, land is king in beautiful North County!
The owner has plenty of margin to negotiate, but will he? If he were to settle for 158 lots at just under $100K per lot, in an area that is already fully developed, that is still a massive ROI, because he doesn't have to fund fire stations, schools and shopping centers typically required for brand new home developments in undeveloped areas. The golf course property is an infill parcel. It is in the middle of an otherwise built out, settled community. It is a builders dream!
But with a price tag like $80M (or possibly even more) on the table, builders like New Urban West know they must upsize the zoning in order to make the project pencil out. Why else would anyone want to put high-density, Monopoly-Board sized houses in an area zoned for 7000 square foot residential homes? The vastly inflated asking price set by the owner explains the 392 unit plan currently before the Escondido Planning Commission.
If the City Council rejects 'The Villages Plan', the owner will have to reevaluate his asking price. That is why ECHHO has developed an alternative plan: Just to highlight what the community has been asking for, and how 158 units more realistically fits the existing character of our settled community.
Look across town at the three projects near Rincon Middle School (by Shea, Lennar and K&B Homes). They all conform to the Escondido General Plan density conditions. They are not infill projects, but they seam to fit and enhance the area. They did not require General Plan amendments and massive community legal battles to be approved.
The Escondido Country Club Conceptual Master Plan for 158 units that has been submitted to the Escondido Planning Commission has many interesting features. I think three things are striking:
NUW has submitted a plan to make our community a 'New Urban' neighborhood. The dramatic 200% increase in density, the reworking of the terrain ( their plan calls for literally thousands of truck loads of new dirt being brought in to mitigate flood plains and change existing elevations), and the vertical architectural styling required to accommodate two-story, family oriented housing on mobile home-sized lots, is inconsistent with the single story, ranch-style homes that have been here since the sixties and seventies.
The ECCHO plan, by providing wide areas of open space and protecting the privacy of those who live adjacent to the old golf course with an abundance of native vegetation, stream beds and water features, honors and continues the semi-rural feel of our community,
I would venture to say that if this alternative plan had been submitted by the owner in 2015, we would be in the beginning stages of production right now!
Please visit the ECCHO website (www.escondidohomeowners.org) to sign the petition that demands the City Council reject 'The Villages" plan for 392 homes! We need your voice to be heard and counted!
What Happened to Our Community?
The story of how a quiet corner of paradise has devolved into
To review the timelines of this ongoing saga, just <click> on any Month below....
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