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Cottonwood Deal Is Headed Back to Court

Los Alamitos sues Cypress over traffic fears if Costco, church build off Katella Avenue.

April 03, 2004|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A plan that began 12 years ago to relocate a church and give Cypress its first superstore encountered another potential delay this week when neighboring Los Alamitos filed a lawsuit targeting the project's traffic implications.

"Traffic circulation will be a great problem," Los Alamitos City Councilman Ronald Bates said regarding the proposed construction of a 150,000-square-foot Costco and the Cottonwood Christian Center at separate sites off Katella Avenue. "We'd like to see the project put on hold until the proper traffic studies have been completed."

Cypress Assistant City Manager David Belmer disagreed. "We view the lawsuit as unnecessary," he said Friday, regarding the action filed three days earlier at Orange County Superior Court. "We acknowledge their concerns and had been negotiating in good faith for months" to resolve them.

"What this means," he said, "is that, instead of focusing our time and attention on negotiating a resolution, we're now going to focus on defending a lawsuit, which seems counterproductive."

At issue is the long-delayed construction of the Costco on 14.9 acres owned by the Cottonwood Christian Center along Katella Avenue near Walker Street.

The project was nearly derailed two years ago when the Los Alamitos-based church, which bought the parcel in 1999, filed a lawsuit challenging Cypress' rejection of its plan to build a 4,700-seat sanctuary, preschool, bookstore, coffeehouse, meeting facilities and youth center.

The two sides reached an agreement last year, allowing the project to go forward and signaling an end to the battle that pitted a city's redevelopment rights against a church's freedom of religion.

Under the accord, Cottonwood agreed to sell its 18-acre site to the city for $18.8 million -- a profit of about $5.3 million -- in exchange for the right to buy a 29-acre portion of the nearby Cypress Golf Course for $17 million from Ed Allred, who also owns Los Alamitos Race Course.

Escrow was expected to close this month with construction to begin immediately, Belmer said, but now the timing is uncertain.

"This [lawsuit] will definitely result in a delay," he said, "which we don't think is in anyone's best interest."

According to the lawsuit, construction of the church facility, adjacent to Los Alamitos on two sides, will result in clogging Katella Avenue and causing significant traffic hazards on nearby Bloomfield Avenue, where there are three schools.

"We think it will have an impact on the kids," Bates said.

"We think the [Cottonwood] site is a good one and we don't have a problem with the church going there, but we do have a problem with Cypress [not having] done the proper studies nor provided the proper traffic mitigations. They need to do a complete environmental impact report."

No date has been set for the two sides to air their positions in court.

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