DUARTE — The Redevelopment Agency, which has been sued by developers who say they have not been allowed to build on land they own, took the first step toward acquiring the land last week.
The City Council, acting as the agency, unanimously adopted a resolution to condemn the Highland and Central avenues properties, which have been under a building moratorium for two years.
The Redevelopment Agency wants to move Northview Middle School to the site, clearing the way for the completion of a 10-dealership auto row along the 210 Freeway.
John E. Plount and San Gabriel Properties, which own or hold options on the land targeted for condemnation, are suing the agency, the city and the school district, charging that eminent domain proceedings were "unreasonably delayed." San Gabriel Properties and Plount, a general partner, are seeking at least $4 million for being denied use of the land.
The plaintiffs were ready to apply for building permits for two 23-unit apartment complexes when the City Council imposed a building moratorium on the area in January, 1986.
Dominic Milano, then community development director, told the Planning Commission in February that the moratorium was adopted to allow consideration of whether the land should be zoned commercial rather than residential.
Ten days before the moratorium was adopted, the firm had bought an option on an adjoining property to satisfy drainage requirements that the city had set as a condition for obtaining a building permit, the suit stated. The purchase was necessary because Duarte Unified School District had refused to allow surface drainage across a vacant school lot, the suit said.
The suit, which was filed in April, alleges that the city adopted the moratorium only "to allow it time to acquire the funds and negotiate with various automobile dealerships" for the auto row.
The building freeze was extended until it reached its legal limit of two years this January. But the development firm was discouraged from applying for a building permit because the city said it intended to eventually acquire the land, the suit said.
Doug Ring, attorney for Plount and San Gabriel Properties, told the agency at last week's hearing that the property owners should have been allowed to apply for a building permit when the moratorium expired in January. The city was not legally able to condemn the properties until May, after they had been added to the redevelopment project, he said.
In addition, the suit claims that the city and school district had been considering the land as a relocation site for the school since late 1985.
But Community Development Director Ed Cox said there was "no discussion of putting the school there" when the moratorium was enacted in 1986. Eminent domain proceedings were not begun sooner because the agency was waiting for the county to review the latest redevelopment plan, Cox said.
School Supt. Robert Packer said he was surprised that the school district is named in the suit because the district played no role in deciding on a new site for the school.
"We're like a passenger on the plane," Parker said.
The council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, and the school board jointly approved relocating Northview Middle School to the land now owned by Plount and San Gabriel Properties in March, 1987.
The agency has proposed paying $802,000 for the land. Plount has rejected the price because he said it was based on residential use for the property. If the commercial value of the land is considered, the price would more than double, he said. At least $650,000 had been spent on the properties before the building freeze was imposed, the suit said.