Farm owners threaten lawsuit
City attorney unfazed, says council can zone Grant Road property as it sees fit
In the days leading up to next week's City Council meeting, the battle over the Grant Road farm has taken on the ugly traits of an intense election, with campaign signs stolen and lawsuits threatened.
When asked Tuesday if there would be a court battle over the city's possible decision to zone for a five-acre farm on the site, the landowners' attorney, Lex Watson, told the Voice, "I would think so, yes. The only way to force them [city officials] to do it appropriately would be to bring an action."
Meanwhile, the anti-farm group Defending Our Neighborhood filed a police report after 40 signs were taken from homes surrounding the farm. The signs, designed to show local solidarity against a proposal to carve a five-acre, nonprofit-run farm out of the 15-acre site, read simply, "No Farm."
"This was just an unbelievable act of suppressing our voice, the most egregious I've seen," said Thomas Holmes, organizer of Defending Our Neighborhood.
The opposing group in the debate, Mountain View Farmlands Group, which made the original proposal to preserve a smaller farm on the site, denied any involvement in taking the signs.
SummerHill Homes, which plans to put 55 homes on the entire 15-acre site, has resisted the Farmlands Group's proposal from the start. An attorney hired by SummerHill, Alex Faber, had also cautioned the city in a letter written for the council before the May 8 study session on the farm. Faber said the city could be violating the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, and said that in several cases cities have lost in court for "expropriating property."
But city attorney Michael Martello was not bothered by talk of a possible lawsuit.
"Any zoning decision can be taken to court by the property owners and residents," Martello said. "Not much zoning is done in court, but lots of people try."
In a "Land Use 101" workshop earlier this year, which the farm owners attended, Martello noted court decisions that discourage courts from overturning zoning decisions made by cities.
Vicki Moore, a Farmlands Group organizing member, said the threatened legal actions were probably just a scare tactic.
"In my experience working in the land use field for a dozen years, this type of tactic rarely succeeds," she wrote in an e-mail. "In this case not only is there no legal merit, but it may, as in other cases, further the resolve of the decision-makers to make a decision in the best interest of the community."
Farmlands Group member Robin Iwai said that Defending Our Neighborhood had spurned requests that the two groups participate in city mediation. "We are all going to continue being neighbors regardless of what happens to the property," Iwai said.
Holmes responded, in an e-mail to city mediator Bob Jacobson, "Upon reflection and consultation with the group we feel it is inappropriate to meet with Robin's group at this time. Please thank her for her time and input and [tell her] that we wish her well."
On Tuesday, June 5, the City Council will provide direction for zoning the property, though no formal action will be made. Public comments were heard on May 8.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at email@example.com