A conservation group wants to buy the Bonsall, Calif. property, demolish it and make it a “land bank” that would eventually return it to a natural wetland state. Those who object to the plan say that it will not only cause lost jobs and tax revenues, but also adversely affect property values and attract nothing but transients, mosquitoes and brush fires.
A plan to buy the San Luis Rey Downs Country Club and Golf Course in Bonsall, Calif., demolish it and return the 185-acre property to natural wetlands has led to protests not only from golfers who have used the course since it was built in 1963 but also nearby residents, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Two years ago, the course owners decided to sell, and a company called Conservation Land Group Inc. now has an exclusive option to buy the property through a subsidiary called Moosa Creek LLC, the Union-Tribune reports. The group’s purchase is contingent on getting approval from several government agencies—including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—for a plan to completely dismantle the course and turn it into a land bank, also known as a mitigation bank.
When a developer or utility wants to build in an undisturbed area, they are often required to offset the environmental damage by restoring land elsewhere to its natural state—a process called mitigation, the Union-Tribune explains. For decades, the Conservation Land Group has been buying and restoring land, then selling mitigation credits to developers who need them to get a project approved, it was noted.
Under the company’s plan for the San Luis Rey site, the Union-Tribune reports, buildings, bridges, golf cart paths, fairways, greens and tees would be bulldozed and the entire property would be reconfigured and replanted to look like it did before anything was there.
The project would require the removal of up to 350,000 cubic yards of fill materials that have been added at the site, the project’s prospectus states.
The plan has been bouncing around for a couple years, said Kevin Knowles, President of Conservation Land Group, but it wasn’t until recently—when an application to create the land bank was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—that it became public knowledge, the Union-Tribune reports.
That’s led to protests from people who oppose the plan, including many who have homes near the course and are upset because it could lessen property values and deprive them of one of the reasons they live there.
“It’s mind-boggling why someone would want to spend millions—and it would take millions of dollars to bulldoze down all of those berms surrounding the golf course property—and turn it into wetlands that would spoil all the views of all the homes around it,” Jon Frandell, a Fallbrook, Calif. businessman and golfer, told the Union-Tribune.
“If you own a property you can sell it to whoever you want,” he added. “The question, is why would a land bank have an interest in destroying a developed property?”
The course brings in sales tax revenues and employs 40 people, Frandell noted, and the property values of hundreds of nearby homes would be lessened if the course was replaced by undeveloped land. Wetlands also attract transients and mosquitoes and present the danger of brush fire, he added.
“I don’t know who came up with the idea, but I think it’s flawed,” Frandell told the Union-Tribune. “I’ve played that course for 20 years. To turn it back to wetlands is a severe mistake.”
Craig Wulfemeyer, whose home’s balcony overlooks the 11th green and the 18th tee of the golf course, is another who says he’s not happy about the proposal, the Union-Tribune reports.
“A golf course is a nature scene,” he said. “It’s got trees and grass and is maintained. You ever looked at wetlands? It’s not a beautiful view.”
Jerry Tomaz, another homeowner, is one of dozens who have sent letters to the Corps urging it not to approve the project, the Union-Tribune reports.
The course provides 50,000 rounds of golf per year for players and provides free golf for three local high schools, Tomaz noted.
“The locals in the area, most of whom, myself included, purchased here because there is a golf course, would lose the ambience offered by the green expanses,” Tomaz said.
He and other residents plan to attend a public hearing being hosted by the Corps that is set for February 24 at the golf course’s clubhouse, the Union-Tribune reports.
According to the Conservation Land Group’s Knowles, the land bank would create numerous benefits to the surrounding residential neighborhoods, including:
• permanent protection of the property as open space, through a conservation easement to be held by a nonprofit land conservancy;
• reduced traffic, pollution and noise due to the closure of the golf course;
• significantly reduced water usage.
The Conservation Land Group says the land bank would also provide a variety of credit types not offered at other land banks in the area and would create a breeding habitat for endangered species such as the Bell’s vireo songbird and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.
Knowles said that his company hopes that land bank construction could begin in 2015.
The golf course is bordered to the west by the San Luis Rey River and a stream, Moosa Creek, runs through part of the property, the Union-Tribune reports. The Army Corps of Engineers has authority over what happens at the site because of those waterways.
The federal agency will make a ruling on the land bank proposal after determining what’s in the public’s best interest, the Union-Tribune reports. The Corps would also have to issue permits for much of the work that would be done to restore the area to its original wetlands environment.
The project, known officially as the Moosa Creek Mitigation Bank, must also win approval from several other state and federal agencies, it was noted.
The immediate demand for mitigation land is expected to come in part from state road-widening projects and from San Diego Gas & Electric’s work on transmission lines.
The U.S. Marine Corps’ Base Camp Pendleton has also indicated it may need a number of credits for wetland, stream, and species mitigation, the Union-Tribune reports.
Over the long term, Conservation Land Group said it expects overall demand for credits to grow, as California cities such as San Marcos and Escondido expand and the local real estate market improves.
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