A judge ruled Friday that the City of Escondido cannot zone the former Escondido Country Club property as "open space."
The property at 1800 W. Country Club Lane served as a golf course for nearly five decades when it closed down in 2013.
A legal battle began when Michael Schlesinger and his company Stuck in the Rough LLC purchased the property out of bankruptcy in 2012 and planned to build 600 residential homes on the property.
Homeowners who wanted to maintain their “golf course views” decided to fight the development.
In 2013, residents qualified for the Citizens Property Rights initiative to protect 100 acres of established open space in the Escondido Country Club area, and the Escondido City Council voted unanimously to uphold that designation.
But the developer sued the city, and on Friday, Judge Earl H. Maas ruled the city violated the law by designating the area as "open space."
Mike Slater with the Escondido Country Club & Community Homeowners Organization (ECCHO) said his organization was going to meet Friday afternoon to dissect the judge's ruling, but at first glance, he said it appeared to contradict earlier rulings in the case that supported the voter initiative.
"I'm hoping the city will appeal," Slater said. "I think it should be defending its citizens' rights for the initiative. We voted for it, we gathered all the signatures and they should defend the registered voters of the city."
Schlesinger released the following statement Friday:
"The court’s decision to restore the residential designation for the former Escondido Country Club site paves the way for the City, neighborhood homeowners, and ourselves as the property owner to resolve the future use of the site. To do so will require all parties to join us in what we’ve already done on more than one occasion -- to look beyond our original expectations to find a compromise that meets all of our needs.
"Thus far, the only true 'winners' in this case have been the lawyers on both sides who have collectively billed more than $2 million in legal fees. Since the city is now financially responsible for those fees, it is my hope the city will forego the additional costs of an appeal and instead work with us and the community to finalize a plan that substantially reduces the number of homes from earlier proposals. By working together, we can achieve a plan that is compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods while respecting the property owner’s right to develop the property within the allowable residential designation and zoning."
A spokesman for the company said Stuck in the Rough is now proposing 270 homes on 9,500 square-foot lots, leaving 26 percent of the land open space.
NBC 7 has reached out to attorneys for the City of Escondido to find out next steps.