In Stonehouse Homes v. City of Sierra Madre, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2008 WL 4516398, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Oct. 9, 2008) a California Court of Appeal considered a developer’s challenge to a city resolution that directed the preparation of a future land use ordinance that could restrict the developer’s use of its property. The court ruled that the matter was not yet ripe for litigation because the mere direction to begin preparing an ordinance does not create the type of “actual injury” that is required for court involvement.
Stonehouse Homes (“Stonehouse”) owns property it wants to develop within the City of Sierra Madre (“City”). The property is in a steep, hilly region designated the Hillside Management Zone (“HMZ”), within which various regulations pertaining to steepness and density apply.
In 2006, the City published a notice in a local newspaper that it would initiate the preparation of an ordinance to amend HMZ provisions and the City Council would consider a moratorium resolution directing the City’s planning commission to prepare an ordinance amending provisions dealing with lot size, lot dimensions, and density reduction standards. Stonehouse filed suit alleging the City’s actions were designed to single Stonehouse out for unfair treatment and to unfairly punish it for its development activities. The trial court dismissed the suit, concluding the matter was not yet ripe for litigation. Stonehouse appealed.
To determine if a controversy is ripe, the court said, it must employ a two-pronged test. First, whether the dispute is sufficiently concrete that declaratory relief is appropriate; and second, whether withholding judicial consideration will result in actual hardship.
The court concluded Stonehouse’s suit failed both prongs of the test. The City’s resolution did not change any laws pertaining to the HMZ, it merely gave notice to the public that the City Council might consider adopting legislation changing HMZ regulations in the future. As such, the court said that action did not infringe on Stonehouse’s rights. Moreover, under the second prong, Stonehouse failed to show any imminent and significant hardship that would result from non-intervention. Stonehouse’s claim to a “loss of certainty” of its right to develop its property is not the type of justiciable controversy that allows for court involvement, the court said.
The matter was therefore not ripe for litigation and the trial court’s order dismissing it was affirmed.
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