San Diego County appears poised to buy another large chunk of what was once the San Luis Rey Downs Golf Club, securing a new link in a years-long plan to create 9-mile linear park along the San Luis Rey River.
The historic golf club closed in 2014 following years of dismal revenues and the property has been sitting vacant since then, its once-manicured greens reverting to dirt and weeds amid a backdrop of majestic trees.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors will be asked to begin the process of acquiring a 118-acre parcel — just off state Route 76 in Bonsall — that once held the golf course’s five western-most holes. The board is expected to set a hearing date for Dec. 14, at which time the $5.85 million purchase from San Luis Rey Downs Enterprises LLC would be officially authorized.
Company representatives could not be reached for comment Tuesday. They had initially planned to turn the 118 acres, plus more of the golf course to the east, into a wetlands mitigation bank, returning the property to its natural state and allowing developers to purchase credits that would offset the environmental damage done by building projects elsewhere in the region.
Nearby residents were vehemently opposed to that plan, in part because the land would be surrounded by a chain-link fence and inaccessible to the public. If the county purchase goes through, only 61 acres would remain for a land bank.
On Tuesday Jon Frandell, a leader of the Save The Bonsall Golf Course citizen’s group, said he was thrilled to hear about the county’s plan.
“People would rather see it as a park rather than fenced off,” he said about the shuttered course, adding that his group would still fight the smaller mitigation bank.
Last year the county spent $3.1 million to purchase 60 acres that held the five most northern holes of the San Luis Rey course. The 118-acre parcel is “adjacent to it and it makes for a nice, contiguous swath of park land,” said Jake Enriquez, district manager of the county’s park and recreation department.
“It’s a logical connection with .. the first piece,” he said, adding that the land is fairly flat, next to the river, and dotted with many mature trees.
“Collectively the parcels capture the essence of Bonsall,” Enriquez said. “It’s a nice green look.”
Creating trails through the property should be fairly straightforward because golf cart paths are already there, he noted.
Once the deal goes through, all that will be left of the San Luis Rey Downs golf course is the 61 acres north of the deteriorating clubhouse, restaurant, hotel and tennis courts. Frandell said six commercially zoned acres where the clubhouse sits, were sold a few months ago to a hotelier.
County Supervisor Bill Horn said residents wanted the county to purchase the entire golf course, but he didn’t want that. The 61 acres aren’t adjacent to the river and would have been too expensive.
“As far as I’m concerned we got what we wanted,” he said.
“I saw an opportunity for us to grab part of (the golf club),” Horn said. “We negotiated and kept it quiet. We didn’t want the public involved.”
The county has been purchasing property for the San Luis Rey River park for years, but never imagined that the golf course — which had been operating for a half-century — would one day become available.
The 118 acres up for grabs now is south of Camino del Rey, west of Old River Road and east of state Route 76, and includes land near the river where the least Bell’s vireo, a songbird on the federal and state endangered species lists, has been found.
If the purchase is approved, the number of acres acquired for the river park so far will exceed 670.
Some day, many years from now, the scenic park will spread across 1,600 acres that line both sides of the river and the highway, stretching from eastern Oceanside all the way to Interstate 15 in Fallbrook.
“It will be a beautiful river park some day,” Enriquez said. “A nice, beautiful, regional park in north San Diego County. It’s one of the most exciting things I’m involved with.”
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