October 31, 2013 Edition

Agoura Road property falls under eminent domain

By Stephanie Bertholdo

The Agoura Hills City Council last week exercised its right to acquire private property on Agoura Road through the power of eminent domain.

Assistant City Manager Nathan Hamburger said in a report to the City Council on Oct. 23 that Agoura Road must be widened from two to four lanes to reduce traffic congestion and provide an emergency bypass road to the 101 Freeway. The road will also be revamped to include landscaped medians, bike paths on both sides, sidewalks with landscaped pathways and other elements for the eventual development of Agoura Village, a town center with mixed use development, entertainment and residential units.

Agoura Road will be widened between the westerly city limits and Cornell Road. Improvements to Kanan Road are also planned at the intersection. To complete the project, permanent and temporary construction easements along the street will be needed.

Fourteen property owners, including the Foursquare Church, will be impacted.

Public agencies, including cities, have the right to acquire private property “through offers of just compensation, good faith negotiation and voluntary settlement, or the use of eminent domain powers,” Hamburger said in his report.

Kay McMenamin-Torres spoke on behalf of her clients Agoura Self Storage and Conejo Valley U-Store-It. She presented 13 objections, including an assertion that the city did not have the authority for eminent domain “since the use is not a public use,” and the project and property are not necessary for public use.

Another objection raised by McMenamin-Torres is that the impacts to her clients outweigh the public good. She said the city has not proposed compensation for the lost storage spaces. She added that other damages, including changes to the flow of traffic within the properties and “loss of goodwill,” have not been adequately analyzed.

And she said the city has not yet acknowledged or paid $5,000 for an independent appraisal for the property that would be lost.

Brian Tucker spoke on behalf of Foursquare Church. He said the land has been valued too low and that the project would make it difficult for members turning left out of their church. Another issue, he said, is a monument on the church land that will either have to be moved or replaced if the city uses the land for road widening.

Dr. Vinod Gupta purchased land several years ago to build a 12,700-square-foot office building for his practice. Gupta said although he paid all of the fees for this office, the recession stopped him from starting the project and the option to build it expired last year. Gupta said he is worried about several issues, including that his hard-fought right to build a 12,700-square-foot structure might be lost if only a smaller building is allowed due to eminent domain.

The city is seeking two permanent easements and one temporary construction easement on Gupta’s property. If the city downsizes the scope of his building design, a new design would have to be created, which he said could be costly.

“The easements will already lower the value of my property, given the fact that they will be diminishing the square footage in my possession,” Gupta wrote in a letter to the city. “However, it is also likely that the easements will detrimentally impact my ability to ‘renew’ my approval with the city, particularly given the variances that were approved in 2010.”

Gupta explained that the city approved a variance on his land in 2010 because his design addressed the city’s requirement to reduce visual prominence of the building through the use of landscaping. If the city uses some of the frontage land for easements, the reduced setback could mean that the building will once again become visually prominent and require a redesign of the project or even lose the right to build.

“At this juncture, I am extremely concerned the easements will detrimentally affect various aspects of my property, diminishing or eliminating the ability to obtain a renewed approval on these prior-approved variances,” Gupta said. “Should the easements change my ability to construct an approximately 13,000-square-foot building on the property, it could significantly lower the value of the property to my financial harm and disadvantage should I choose to construct it myself or market it in the future.”

Mayor Denis Weber conducted a vote on 14 “Resolutions of Necessity.” Each passed 4-0. Councilmember John Edelston was absent.

Councilmember Bill Koehler said cities do not take the right of eminent domain “lightly.” He pledged that the council would work in good faith with each of the property owners to avoid litigation.

2013-10-31 / Front Page

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