Developer Says Profit is City's Motive : Torrance Countersued Over Marsh Deed

Times Staff Writer

In a countersuit filed against the city, the developers of the Park Del Amo residential and commercial project assert that the city has refused to accept conditional deeds to the Madrona Marsh because the city never intended to maintain the marsh as a natural preserve.

The suit, filed March on 4 in Los Angeles Superior Court, says the city wants the property for its own "purposes and profit," and asks the court to grant unspecified damages. It also asks the court to rescind a portion of a 1983 agreement that required the developer to set aside nearly 43 acres of the marsh in exchange for being allowed to construct up to 1,482 residential units and 850,000 square feet of commercial space.

The developers had agreed to dedicate 34.4 acres of the wetlands and sell an additional 8.5 acres to the city for a preserve to satisfy a local environmental group and two homeowner groups that opposed development of the site.

Those groups signed an agreement with the developers, Torrance Investment Co. and Santa Fe Land Improvement Co., saying they would not oppose the development if the marsh was saved for a wildlife habitat. The marsh--one of the last remaining habitats in the area for migrating birds and other small wildlife--is next to the project site on Sepulveda Boulevard and Maple Avenue.

Since that agreement, however, the city and the developers have argued over whether the developers should be allowed to buy back the land if the marsh dries up. The city does not want that provision in the deeds to the land, and in December it filed suit against the developers asking the court to force the developers to turn over the marsh unconditionally.

Last month, a Superior Court judge allowed the city to take over temporary possession of the marsh, but through an easement that allows the developers to retain ownership until the suit is decided.

The developers' suit seeks an injunction to repeal the city's temporary possession of the marsh because the city will "continue to interfere . . . and cause permanent, irreparable harm" to the marsh and prevent it from being preserved as a natural habitat.

Assistant City Atty. William Quale called the countersuit a legal maneuver by the developers to allow them to put their position on the record and to better defend themselves against the city's suit.

The countersuit also alleges that the Friends of Madrona Marsh, the Torrance Heights Civic Assn. and the Marble Estates Homeowners Assn. induced the City Council to file suit against the developers in violation of the agreement they signed with the developers.

The developers are seeking unspecified damages from the three groups.

Georgean Griswold, president of the Friends of Madrona Marsh, said she was served the suit only last week and has not yet studied it. However, she said she was "disappointed" that it was filed.

The presidents of the two homeowners groups could not be reached for comment.

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