Builders Sue City Over Ban on Condos

Times Staff Writer

A group of developers filed suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court in an attempt to overturn Glendale's moratorium on apartment and condominium construction.

The suit argues that the City Council violated the City Charter when it imposed the moratorium in September. The suit was filed by the newly formed Moratorium Litigation Committee, an offshoot of the Glendale Fair Growth Coalition, which has pressured the city to grant exemptions from the moratorium for some building projects.

Edwin Schreiber, an attorney and spokesman for the litigation committee, said the committee represents about 30 developers whose projects constitute the majority of the 50 projects halted by the moratorium.

'Vested Right'

Only one developer, the Tensor Group, is identified by name in the suit, however. The group contended, in arguments separate from those made by the committee, that it has a vested right to build three apartment and condominium projects that were halted by the moratorium after Tensor completed most of the requirements necessary for a building permit.

Both the litigation committee and the Tensor Group requested an injunction that would invalidate the moratorium. In addition the Tensor Group requested an exemption that would apply only to its projects. A hearing on the requests is set for Dec. 20 in Superior Court.

Schreiber said he is uncertain of the identities of many members of the developers committee. He said he had worked on the suit with three developers and had met with the rest of the members only once. Many builders were reluctant to become co-plaintiffs in the suit, he said, because they "are obviously chary about taking on the city."

The City Council enacted the five-month moratorium as an emergency ordinance to prevent a flood of building permit applications while it considers amendments to the city zoning law.

'That's the Problem'

The suit challenges the moratorium's legality on several grounds. The moratorium is actually a zoning ordinance, the suit argues, and falls under provisions of the City Charter that require a public hearing and a 10-day notice before zoning ordinances can be enacted.

"They made this effective immediately, and that's the problem," Schreiber said.

Emergency provisions of the City Charter cannot be applied to zoning problems because they are not "the type of calamity for which emergency action is authorized," the suit argues.

City Atty. Frank Manzano said, however, that the developers and their attorneys have misinterpreted the charter.

"I don't think they went far enough in reading the charter. It permits the council to make a determination that an emergency exists for the protection of the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of Glendale," he said.

In unanimously approving the emergency ordinance, council members said zoning changes were necessary because the city was being flooded with substandard apartment buildings and condominiums.

A second element of the suit invokes the principle of "vested right," which protects property owners from changes in zoning or other land use regulations that occur during construction of a project.

The city unfairly delayed processing the Tensor Group's projects, the suit alleges. The projects are thus protected by the "vested right" principle because the developer should have received a permit before the moratorium was enacted.

Manzano, a member of the committee that reviewed projects frozen by the moratorium, said, however, that some of the delays in the permit process were caused by the developers themselves.

The suit also seeks to recover $104,000 in architect's fees and payments made to the city by the Tensor Group for the three projects, a 31-unit condominium on North Adams Street and a pair of three-story apartment buildings on Maple Street. Haik Vartanian, chairman of the Tensor Group, said the projects would be worth more than $10 million if completed.

'Strong Disagreements'

The Tensor Group, which has developed 150 apartments and condominiums in Glendale, also recently purchased a 22-acre lot from Glendale Community College for $2.25 million, Tensor representatives said.

Vartanian is also chairman of the Glendale Fair Growth Coalition, which does not officially endorse the suit, according to the coalition's spokesman, Berdj Karapetian. There are "strong disagreements" within the coalition on the question of the lawsuit, Karapetian said. "We feel that they have a strong argument, but we're not approaching it from a legal avenue, we're approaching it from the point of view of fairness."

Karapetian said members of the coalition were concerned that litigation might alienate members of the City Council and hurt the coalition in future negotiations.

Karapetian acknowledged, however, that the coalition's goal--allowing projects halted by the moratorium to proceed--would be served if the lawsuit is successful.

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