The newly formed Mid-Sunset Residents Assn. and the Pacific Palisades Civic League have reached an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit against the developer of a controversial condominium complex, leaving open the question of how much authority the Civic League wields over building heights in its Pacific Palisades jurisdiction.
The Civic League is named in 4,000 deeds in Tract 9300, which covers most of the Palisades, as the arbiter of "outward appearance and design" of every building in the tract. The league has the right to seize any lot in the tract where an owner has defied its rules, although it has never done so.
The league has been criticized by residents who say the organization shies away from defining its role and exercising its clout to help the Palisades maintain its distinct village atmosphere. Critics have blamed the organization's lack of action on the domination of the league board by real estate agents and architects.
Members of the league's board have acknowledged that the organization has shortcomings but blame them on the community, which has failed to provide support in the form of money and donated time. Only about 100 property owners in Tract 9300 paid $15 each in annual membership dues to join the league this year.
Height Extended 3 Feet
The residents' group and the Civic League agreed last week to dismiss their lawsuit against developer Alexander Furlotti, whose company is constructing 18 condominium units on Sunset Boulevard. The suit in Santa Monica Superior Court charged that Furlotti was building a different structure than that approved by the Civic League, because he had made changes that added three feet in height--enough to block the last sliver of ocean blue visible from backyards and patios behind the condo.
The plaintiffs sought a court order to lower the building height from 71 feet to the original 68 feet.
A Civic League committee originally suggested that Furlotti change the paint color and add shrubbery around the condo to help make up for the loss of view. But about 100 angry condo neighbors and community activists jammed a September Civic League board meeting and pressured the organization into formal disapproval of Furlotti's addition of three feet to the building.
Furlotti continued work on the condo because, he said, the league's mandate to supervise outward appearance did not include the right to decide a building's height.
A week later, the Civic League voted 6-2 to join the neighbors in their lawsuit. The Mid-Sunset group agreed to finance the legal action.
But the terms of the settlement are not very different from the original compromise proposed by the league. Furlotti's attorney, Amy Rice, said the developer agreed to provide funds for landscaping that the neighbors can use on their own properties to shield their homes from the condo.
"That was his basic way of getting the lawsuit behind them and promoting better cooperation," Rice said.
In addition to dropping the lawsuit, Rice said, the league agreed to withdraw its disapproval of the project and also agreed to several minor variances, such as the addition of entry portals.
The neighbors agreed to drop appeals with the city Building and Safety Department, Rice added.
Donald C. Randolph, attorney for the Mid-Sunset neighbors, said his clients agreed to the settlement "because of the timing of the suit. Since the building is 80% completed at this point, it seemed remote that we'd be able to get back the view." Randolph said he remains convinced, however, that the league can regulate height.
Civic League President Doug Uhler could not be reached for comment. Heinz Meier, who chairs the league committee that screens submitted designs, said he did not want to comment on the specifics of the settlement because the paper work has not been completed.
"All I can say," Meier said, "is that we have been educating neighbors and everybody else" about the difficulties faced by the league. "It cost them a few thousand dollars," he added.
Said Randolph: "It seems to me we shook up the Civic League a little bit and got them thinking about protecting the Palisades. We'll be looking for the next case before the first spade is in the ground."
The Mid-Sunset group has nominated two of its members as candidates for the Civic League board, which is elected each March, Randolph said.