A long-discussed proposal to build a luxury residential community on land used by the Chandler quarry and the Rolling Hills Country Club is in jeopardy, with a developer looking to the courts to force the land sale necessary for the project.
Cayman Development Co. filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court accusing Chandler's Palos Verdes Sand & Gravel Co. of reneging on an oral agreement to sell the bulk of the 300 acres needed for the 600-home development. Cayman's project, which would be in both Rolling Hills Estates and Torrance, calls for redesign of the golf course and filling of the 300-foot-deep quarry off Palos Verdes Drive East near the Lomita boundary with Rollling Hills Estates.
Cayman wants the court to order the Chandler company to honor the agreement or pay damages in excess of $10 million.
"We felt we had an agreement; they feel otherwise at this time," said Dave Eadie, Cayman vice president who is in charge of the project.
Jack Berry, Chandler's credit manager, said the company was only recently served with the suit, which was filed May 22, and declined comment until attorneys are consulted.
Meanwhile, the country club has asked Rolling Hills Estates for minor variances and a change in its conditional use permit in order to enlarge its clubhouse--which would be torn down under the Cayman plan.
Howard Huget, chairman of the 99-acre club's long-range planning committee, said the $2.95-million expansion project is necessary because its facilities are too small for the membership of 400. Huget said the club's proposed investment does not mean it has ruled out participation in a project such as Cayman's, which had proposed a new clubhouse on another location.
"It would appear that even if this big project goes through, it will be another 10 or 15 years," he said.
"On the back burner" was one description of the state of the project that, according to the lawsuit, was discussed by Cayman and Chandler as far back as 1978. The latest plans, unveiled two years ago by Cayman, provides for $500,000 homes and town houses, an improved golf course and elimination of the decades-old eyesore of the open quarry, which Chandler operates as a landfill for inert materials, including dirt, concrete and blacktop.
The plans calls for extensive recontouring of the land to provide 7 million cubic yards of earth to fill the quarry. The soil would be taken from beneath the golf course and Alta Loma Park in the Victoria Knolls section of Torrance, both of which would be lowered and reconstructed. No timetable for completion was ever released.
The project ran into trouble early last year when Torrance residents circulated petitions opposing the development on grounds that it would destroy Alta Loma Park and inundate them with traffic. The Rolling Hills Estates Planning Commission rejected the town-house concept and said it wanted to place zoning controls on the property before the developer filed a formal development plan.
Dispute Traced to 1986
According to the suit, Cayman and Chandler began their dispute over the verbal agreement in the middle of 1986, when quarry officials said revenues from their fill operations had increased substantially and that they did not want to proceed with the development.
The suit says the verbal agreement of April, 1985, took the place of earlier written and verbal agreements between the parties and provided for the sale of the 127-acre quarry for $11 million and the sale of another 30 Chandler acres--the so-called trust property because it is held for the heirs of quarry founder L. H. Chandler--for $3 million.
Based on this agreement, the suit contends, Cayman also worked out a participation agreement with the country club. Huget said the club owns 35 acres and leases 64 acres from Chandler. The land leased by the country club is a third Chandler parcel.
The suit contends that Cayman has invested about $300,000 in manpower and $250,000 in other expenses for the project.
Cayman has not been alone in eyeing the Chandler properties.
Last December, Huntington Beach developer Charlie Koeller began negotiating to buy the 30-acre trust property from Chandler for $3 million, hoping to build homes and sell lots there. But he withdrew from the deal, he said, because there were "too many obstacles," including limited access to the property, which is located near Dapplegray School.
Zone Change Needed
"Residents around the area would have fought the project," which would have required a zone change for a 60-lot subdivision, Koeller said.
Berry of the Chandler Co. said the land is no longer for sale.
Stephen A. Emslie, Rolling Hills Estates' planning director, said "it will take awhile" for any large-scale development to take place.
"The original Cayman proposal was a bit too ambitious, and involved coordination of too many parties to make it feasible," he said. "They couldn't put all the pieces together."
However, Cayman Vice President Eadie said the development is viable and that his firm wants to proceed if it can come to terms with Chandler. "It is a desirable piece of property with tremendous potential," he said.
But Emslie said city officials now are devoting their attention not to the quarry, but to the future of the Dapplegray campus, which the Palos Verdes Peninsula School District is closing this month and plans to sell, most likely for residential development. District spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said the the school has 25 acres that could be developed.
The Planning Commission appointed a citizens committee to suggest development policies for the school and the adjoining Chandler trust property, and has been holding workshops on suggested policies. "We are doing some pre-planning in those areas because we know something will happen on those acres" before anything happens to the quarry, Emslie said. "The properties are developable."
He speculated that Chandler "may be back in the future" with a development plan of its own for the quarry after it has been filled, which might be in 10 years.
For now, according to Chandler Vice President John Robertson, the company will go on doing what it has been doing.
"We're in a ready-mix concrete operation and running our fill," he said. "And we'll go on until a development comes along."