ESCONDIDO, Calif. - Hundreds of residents packed Escondido City Hall Wednesday night, to keep their once-prized golf course from turning into a sprawling housing track.
Council members voted 5-0 to protect the land, which used to be the former Escondido Golf Club, from development. The 111-acre site was closed in April after its new owner, Michael Schlesinger, bought the property but could not keep up with maintenance costs.
"Clearly, that was bad news for Escondido taxpayers," Schlesinger said following the decision. "City Council voted without all the information in front of them and is letting the courts decide. I think we will prevail in court."
Schlesinger told council members he invested a lot of money in the property, which was left with $150,000 in unpaid property taxes, $120,000 in unpaid water bills and was in dire need of a $2 million infrastructure upgrade.
He wanted to build 283 homes on the site, leading to an all-out turf war between his company and the residents who live along the course.
"Property value in that area is going to be diminished, and the traffic alone will be significant," said Steven Stricklett, an Escondido resident who said conditions have deteriorated on the abandoned land. "We already had a couple on our street for instance, sell and move because they didn't want to be around."
Opponents of the development turned over more than 9,000 signatures, qualifying them for a citizen's property rights intiative that protects the former golf course as green space. Council listened to their requests to halt any development for now, but Schlesinger maintains the land had been zoned to build homes for more than 50 years.