Unbuilt street causes more controversy

A landowner who has tangled with city officials for five years over an access route to a home he plans to build on a vacant lot will have to construct — and pay for — a new public street, La Cañada Flintridge City Council members decided Tuesday.

Dr. Philip Merritt wants to use Windermere Place, a street off Inverness Drive that exists in name only, to access his hillside property abutting Hampstead Road.

City officials had sought to deny use of Windermere Place, which would extend 200 feet from Inverness between two of Merritt’s neighbors, but in a subsequent court battle Merritt won the right to pave that street.

Merritt was back at City Hall this week seeking to purchase the land that would be Windermere Place and build a driveway there instead — a plan council members had hoped might lessen impacts on his objecting Inverness neighbors.

There would be no such luck.

Drs. Cecilie Boysen and Soren Madsen, who live adjacent to the unbuilt Windermere Place, said they’d rather have the city retain control of a public street, expressing concerns about future access rights and ongoing disputes with Merritt.

Unable to craft a foolproof compromise easement agreement, council members decided 4-0 to let Windermere Place be built as a public street but insisted that Merritt pay for the construction. (Councilman Steve Del Guercio has abstained from voting on Windermere due to his law firm’s relationship with a property owner.)

Saying it’s unfair to force Merritt to pay the entire cost of paving a public street that also benefits others, attorney Arnold Graham warned that decision would prompt yet another lawsuit — this one arguing a public road should be paved using public funds.

“Should the city not agree to immediately abandon Windermere and continue … in asserting that Dr. Merritt has to construct Windermere as a public road, it will leave us with no choice but to immediately legally challenge that position,” Graham wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to City Atty. Mark Steres.

During the council hearing, Merritt argued that vacation and sale of Windermere Place would benefit the public by relieving council members of dispute-resolution duties and eliminating city liability for the property.

But to Merritt’s chagrin, Councilman Greg Brown convinced fellow council members that an attempt to craft a complex compromise easement would put the city on shaky legal ground and increase the likelihood of further conflicts.

Merritt accused Brown, whom he had threatened to sue last year after Brown’s absence at a council meeting further delayed the project, of obstructing and overcomplicating the approval process.

Brown countered that his was the clearest and quickest solution.

After the meeting, Graham also stated a very direct point of view.

“We’re going to build a road, and we’re going to make [the city] pay for it,” Graham said.

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