On-again, off-again efforts to convert the dormant Bel Air Greens golf course into land available for housing appear to be on again, but there is no guarantee development will actually happen at the site.
According to Palm Springs Planning Department staff, the leaseholder of the land took the first step in changing its zoning last month, filing an “Intent to Convert Application” that kicks off a process that could ultimately result in housing on land currently designated as open space that once contained a nine-hole golf course.
The city and the leaseholder, Tommy Jacobs Bel Air Green LP, have been here before. In 2018 the developer proposed converting the land in order to build a resort hotel, multi-family dwellings and single-family homes across 22 acres of the roughly 35-acre site. In a letter to the city at the time of the application, the project was lauded by the developers as “an exceptional opportunity to contribute to the revitalization of this property and provide valuable housing opportunities…”
That application was eventually withdrawn, and a local land preservation organization entered the picture.
Oswit Land Trust (OLT) has been working to purchase the site from the land owners — five members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — in order to include it in the nonprofit’s proposed Mesquite Desert Preserve. The organization has so far been able to secure a grant to help in the purchase and has put together a team of experts to work on restoring the land.
News of the leaseholder’s latest move drew an urgent reply from the land trust’s leader last week.
“Once again, the leaseholder of Bel Aire Greens is trying to change the land designation so he can develop vs. selling to us for appraised value,” wrote Jane Garrison, OLT president, in a social media post. “We can’t let this happen!”
Contacted Tuesday, Garrison said a hot real estate market is most likely behind the resubmission, but that a zoning change would set a dangerous precedent.
“I think that it is a complicated situation,” Garrison said in an email. “You have the owners and you have the leaseholder. The leaseholder probably sees what is happening with real estate in the market and realizes how much money he could make if he could either develop it or get permission to develop it and then sell his lease to a developer.
“Bottom line is this property is designated as open space and the leaseholder knew that designation from the very beginning. …It’s also important for people to understand the consequences of converting open space to development. This could start a precedent where the other golf courses would follow suit… “
The former Bel Air Greens golf course is one of three in the area that Garrison’s group is pursuing. OLT is also hoping to purchase the neglected Mesquite Golf & Country Club and the city-owned Tahquitz Creek Resort Course to form “a beautiful natural desert setting with walking paths, educational plaques, community gardens and more.”
Earlier plans to purchase both city-owned courses that make up the Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort were dropped by Garrison’s group in order to find a compromise between the environmental group and owners of homes along the courses that would allow one course for golf and one as a preserve for those who don’t golf.