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Lot Owner Sues Over Rules She Says Make Building Impossible


SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS — In what owners of neighboring lots consider a test case, an owner of vacant land in the Malibou Lakes area of the Santa Monica Mountains has sued Los Angeles County, the state and the local homeowners association over building restrictions imposed by county supervisors earlier this year.

Papers filed last week in Superior Court in support of the suit contend that newly imposed building requirements such as minimum road widths and minimum lot sizes have made it nearly impossible to build in the sparsely inhabited area between Agoura Hills and Malibu. Construction proposals that do not meet those requirements must be reviewed through the county's conditional-use permit process, which the suit complained can cost $4,000.

At a Jan. 28 board meeting, supervisors imposed those restrictions for a year to allow the county more time to study ways to address fire hazards in the community, which lies in a bowl-shaped valley surrounded by wild grassland and accessible only by one narrow road.

The lawsuit also blames the Malibou Lakeside Homeowners Assn. for "exaggerating the potential and alleged fire hazards of the terrain and community" to prevent owners of vacant lots from building on them. It says the state has exacerbated the situation by failing to maintain a fire road across state parkland that would have alleviated some of the county's fire concerns.

Supervisor Ed Edelman said the board had wrestled for more than a year over how best to address the potential fire dangers in Malibou Lakes before coming up with what he called a compromise.

"I'm disappointed that people are challenging it," he said. "No one is stopping them from building. What we were seeking to do . . . is to make sure that whatever development goes on there will not put . . . the community at greater fire risk."

Representatives of the homeowners association could not be reached for comment Friday, but they have previously complained that the supervisors' restrictions did not go far enough.

"I see this as a way of sweeping us away and putting the decision off," association secretary Karen Varney said when the supervisors acted in January.

The suit was filed by Madeleine Drolet, who asked that the court either lift the county's restrictions or order the county, the state and the homeowners association to repay her at least the $100,000 she spent on the lot.

Phyllis Daugherty, spokeswoman for the Malibou Lakeside Vacant Landowners, said many of the owners of an estimated 240 lots are interested in suing, but that Drolet was chosen to be the first because "she had a perfectly buildable lot" that "cannot be built on under any of the provisions."

Drolet bought her 5,600-square-foot lot on Lookout Drive in 1990 for $100,000 and completed geological tests and other preparations to build a three-bedroom house there, Daugherty said.

At the January hearing, Drolet said she had spent her "life savings to build my little dream home here."

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