Can Costa Mesa's recently passed growth-control measure apply to projects that were approved before it went into effect?
That's the thrust of a lawsuit Sanderson J. Ray Development filed against the city July 11 in Orange County Superior Court.
The company is seeking a legal determination as to whether the growth initiative, Measure Y, applies to a project the City Council approved Nov. 1 that would demolish much of a strip mall at 375 Bristol St. and build 714 self-storage units on the site.
Sanderson J. Ray Development co-owns the property with Cardinal Development.
Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero said Tuesday that the city has yet to receive a copy of the complaint and that he is "unable to comment on pending litigation."
Measure Y, which local voters passed Nov. 8, requires public approval of development projects that necessitate a general plan amendment or zoning change and would add 40 or more dwelling units or 10,000 or more square feet of commercial space on top of what exists.
Because the project on Bristol required rezoning the 3.2-acre property and calls for construction of more than 10,000 additional square feet of commercial space, Measure Y could come into play.
The lawsuit states that Measure Y took effect Dec. 23, after the City Council certified vote totals from the election and after approvals for the Bristol project were finalized.
The measure, however, stipulates that it applies to projects approved by the council "on or after the date of publication of the notice of intention to circulate the initiative petition."
That was July 17, 2015, according to a city report.
Sanderson J. Ray Development's lawsuit states the company is "stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place."
The firm worked for more than a year and spent more than $700,000 to obtain approvals necessary to redevelop the property, but it currently can't proceed because of "the legal uncertainty," according to the lawsuit.
The suit contends that Measure Y can't be retroactively applied to the Bristol project because doing so would violate state laws pertaining to elections and permitting, as well as "result in impermissible conflicts with the city's general plan" and "improperly interfere with the city's administrative and adjudicative powers."
The city of Costa Mesa "has declined to make a formal determination regarding the issue," according to the lawsuit, which says the plaintiff believes that "both parties desire a judicial determination of the issue."
Dodero said the Bristol project appears to be the only one affected by the retroactive clause.
The case has been assigned to Judge Martha Gooding.