French Valley Airport- Property Owner Sues Airport Commission, County

Sunday, June 12, 2005,
Property owner sues airport commission, county
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

An Orange County-based landowner has filed suit in Riverside Superior Court to throw out a new land-use plan targeting properties around French Valley Airport that restricts the firm’s development options on 52 acres south of the runway. he Riverside County Airport Land Use Commission, an independent agency charged with protecting the long-term viability of airports, voted in December to revise a former plan to comply with new state guidelines for buildings around airports. Those guidelines aim to protect the safety of pilots and people living and working near runways, as well as minimize potential conflicts over noise.

However, Silverhawk Land & Acquisitions of Costa Mesa contends in the June 2 suit that the commission abused its discretion and adopted a plan that in effect strips it of its development rights. Barbara Lichman, an attorney representing Silverhawk, said earlier that the firm planned to build a retail center there, and possibly a “big box”-style store.

The suit claims that, because Silverhawk prepared a comprehensive plan for the site and the county granted preliminary approval for development in 1991, the firm’s right to build is locked in.

The suit is asking for a judge to void the French Valley Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan, or at the least issue a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of its provisions. It seeks compensatory damages. And it asks a court to order defendants to pay attorney and appraisal fees.

Named defendants include the airport commission, the county, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors and Marion Ashley, the board’s chairman.

Keith Downs, executive director for the airport commission, declined comment Friday.

Ashley said the suit’s claims are “absurd” and predicted it would be thrown out of court. He said it didn’t make sense to name him as a defendant because French Valley Airport is not in his district. “I just happen to be the chair this year, I would imagine that’s why I got it.”

Supervisors recently ordered a review of areas where land-use plans for French Valley and other county-run airports clash with the county’s general plan, a blueprint for growth in unincorporated areas. That report is scheduled to be delivered to the board July 12, and supervisors have said they will consider overruling portions of the land-use plans, if warranted.

However, the suit maintains the county missed a deadline a few days ago for overruling parts of the French Valley plan.

Silverhawk’s property is three-quarters of a mile south of the runway’s south end. The suit says the new rules prohibit construction of schools, day-care centers, libraries, nursing homes, hospitals, churches and buildings with two or more floors across much of the site.

The 19-page lawsuit also claims that the commission failed to lawfully notify affected property owners of proposed rule changes because it chose to advertise last year’s hearings on the matter with a newspaper public notice rather than mail notices to owners. Saying newspaper notices are allowed only when more than 1,000 landowners are affected by a potential action, the suit stated that the rules changed what could be built on 169 parcels around French Valley.