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Disney sues city over development

  Breaking Legal News  -   POSTED: 2007/02/28 16:50

The Walt Disney World Co. filed today what is believed to be its first ever lawsuit against the city of Anaheim, claiming legal action is needed to protect the tourist area from inappropriate development.

The Orange County Superior Court suit came less than two weeks after Disney officials led business leaders in fighting a City Council proposal to allow homes on a plot in the Anaheim Resort. The plan was rejected in a 2-2 vote.

Still, Disney officials said the lawsuit is necessary to ensure that this development and others go through required environmental studies, which they claim were skipped in this proposal. City staffers have said previous reviews were sufficient.

"Our concern is, this could quickly unravel the Anaheim Resort area and the golden egg that it is for Anaheim," said Rob Doughty, a Disneyland Resort spokesman.

Mayor Curt Pringle, who was against the residential plan, said he would leave it to the lawyers to consider the merits of the case.

But he said the lawsuit was a dramatic step on the part of Disney, the city's largest employer that is the center of the resort where much of the local taxes are generated.

"This is a very significant action. This is something that we should not take lightly," Pringle said.

Some council members said they were taken aback by the lawsuit, while others saw it coming.

"It's absolutely a surprise,'' said Councilman Harry Sidhu, who voted against the zoning change. "At the same time, they have a right to defend their position and we'll see what their demands are. I do not like to see any kind of lawsuit. I'm the type of person that wants a settlement, and I would like to give them a chance to present their case."

The lawsuit stems from unusual actions taken by both the council and the Planning Commission.

In August, four of five council members asked the staff for the zoning change to pave the way for SunCal to propose a 1,500-home development, including 200 affordable units.

Affordable-housing advocates praised the plan as a way to build low-cost homes near resort jobs. But business leaders said the proposal went against the long-term vision to put hotels and tourist venues on the 26.7-acre plot.

Last month, the commission went against the council's direction and rejected the residential zoning, agreeing with Disney that homes are incompatible with the resort area.

At the same time, the commission backed the city's recommendation to approve environmental documents, which outline how much development the surrounding roads, sewers and other infrastructure can handle. City staff relied on previous studies, instead of conducting new ones.

Because the council deadlocked on the plan, the commission's vote stands as the final decision.

Disney disagrees with the commission's endorsement of the environmental studies and now is suing to force the city to conduct them.

Frank Elfend, a consultant for SunCal, said he believes the lawsuit is unfounded. SunCal is requesting a council re-hearing on the zoning change.

"We think that this is another intimidation action on Disney's part," Elfend said.


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