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Easement may settle Windermere dispute

Council says a 'paper street' should be redrawn as a driveway.

May 18, 2011|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com
  • The hill side lot at the corner of Hampstead Road and Sugarloaf Drive in La Caada. (File Photo)
The hill side lot at the corner of Hampstead Road and Sugarloaf…

A neighborhood feud that has been waged at La Cañada Flintridge City Hall for more than five years may soon come to an end, with City Council members deciding Monday to broker an easement over a disputed slice of land.

Dr. Philip Merritt has been fighting with neighbors and the city to use Windermere Place, a street off Inverness Drive that exists in name only, to access a home he plans to build on hillside property that abuts Hampstead Road.

The city-drafted easement proposal would allow Merritt to build Windermere as a private driveway instead, with neighbors also having rights to use it if they agree to share construction costs.

If signed into effect in coming weeks by the city and Merritt, it would also diffuse threats by Merritt to file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the city.

Merritt previously won a court battle with the city over the right to develop Windermere Place as a public street, but earlier this year offered to narrow the scope of the project down to a driveway — though only if he were allowed to purchase the land from the city.

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Council members initially favored the driveway idea, which would reduce the requirement for guardrails and retaining walls, as a way to lessen impacts on neighbors. That proposal failed in February, however, when council remembers refused to sell the land to Merritt after neighbors objected and Merritt declined a compromise easement.

A few weeks after that decision, Merritt filed a claim against the city — the first step in eventually filing another lawsuit — demanding public funding for the construction of Windermere Place.

Council members discussed that claim in a closed session meeting two weeks ago, but delayed a decision, instead opting for the easement this week.

Representing Drs. Cecilie Boysen and Soren Madsen, who live adjacent to Windermere and have opposed Merritt, attorney Frank Gooch complained to council members that the city was caving to legal pressure.

“This [easement proposal] has all happened since February, and the only thing to happen since then is that Merritt filed a claim against the city. I think it’s dangerous for the council to set a precedent that if you threaten to sue the city, we’ll reconsider,” said Gooch, who asked that any decision be postponed.

City Attorney Mark Steres said officials began crafting an easement — the option council members previously favored — only after Merritt recently expressed willingness to accept one.

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