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Forest Lawn sues builder at former El Toro Marine base

September 13, 2008|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

A lawsuit filed Friday alleges that the developer responsible for building homes and businesses on the former El Toro Marine base in Irvine reneged on an agreement to commit 73 acres for a cemetery.

Forest Lawn sued various entities of Lennar Corp., saying that executives of the housing giant told it last month that they had "moved on" from a plan to have the cemetery group build and run a memorial park, cemetery and mortuary, in violation of a 2004 written agreement.

Since 2004, the suit states, Forest Lawn has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in architectural, design and engineering costs and worked with Lennar to obtain city approvals to build the memorial park.

Forest Lawn attorney David Waite said Lennar had for some time been trying to "unwind and frustrate the agreement" by moving the proposed site and demanding Forest Lawn sign away its rights to develop the property.

"Forest Lawn remains truly mystified by Lennar's conduct," he said. "The agreement binds them to move forward with the project."

Lennar officials declined to comment, saying they had not seen a copy of the suit.

The developer purchased the bulk of the airfield in 2005 with plans to build thousands of homes and millions of square feet of commercial, industrial and office space surrounding the future Orange County Great Park. But over the last two years the weak housing market has delayed Lennar's construction projects.

Forest Lawn said in a news release that the city of Irvine had identified the need for a cemetery on the former base and that the site has "special significance to World War II veterans who were stationed at El Toro."

On Tuesday, the Irvine City Council voted to authorize its corps of designers to study the construction of a cemetery and military memorial of its own at the future Great Park.

Lennar also is being sued by Recycled Materials Co., the firm it hired to demolish hundreds of acres of runways at the old base, which remain 98% intact. That firm filed a breach of contract suit last month.

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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