Flanders Mansion: An End to Floundering?
January 7, 2012
The locked, decaying Tudor revival English cottage is a step closer to repair after a 15-year legal battle.
The state sixth district Court of Appeal ruled Jan. 4 to overturn much of Monterey County Superior Court Judge Kay Kingsley's March 2010 ruling, which found the city had violated parts of the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to adequately consider the impacts of alternatives to its plan to sell the Flanders Mansion, such as affordable housing.
Located in the middle of 35-acre Mission Trails Nature Park, the historic 1924 home was acquired by the city in 1973. Backed by a city referendum, the city council planned to sell the mansion as a single-family home, when the Flanders Foundation, a historic and nature preservation group, intervened with a lawsuit, which the city appealed in 2010. A city report found it would cost $1.4 million to restore the building for public use.
"From our point of view, it does have serious impacts on the park to sell the center out of the park," Flanders Foundation president Melanie Billig says. "Selling out the heart of the park would be not in the long term best interest of the park." The Court of Appeal disagreed, and said, "This decision was well within the city's discretionary responsibility."
Both the city and the foundation have interpreted the ruling as a win; it's still not clear whether the city can proceed with the sale, as hoped. As to whether the city can go ahead, attorney Jon Giffen of Kennedy, Archer & Harray says, "I don't know."
Though the appellate court determined Kingsley erred in some regards, they didn't throw out the case entirely. They upheld Kingsley's determination that the city should've considered the impact of shrinking the proposed three-quarters-acre parcel size, and dismissed the city's contention that a smaller lot would be unmarketable. When it came time in environmental documents to justify the parcel size, "The city made no effort to satisfy its obligation," the judges wrote. "Its effort to conjure up reasons now is too late."
The court accepted the city's environmental analysis when it came to considering alternative uses. The judges said mandated environmental reports are “required to consider only 'reasonably foreseeable consequence[s]' of the sale of the Mansion property, not 'every precise use that may conceivably occur.' It is not reasonably foreseeable that any public entity will decide to spend millions of dollars to buy and restore the Mansion property and accept the burden of the extensive mitigation measures and conservation easements for the purpose of using the property for affordable housing.”
Even returning to the environmental documents to adjust parcel size considerations would be time-consuming and costly in an already arduous battle, which Billig hopes will help push for a lease alternative rather than a sale at this point. "We hope that this brings an opportunity for the city, the foundation and park enthusiasts to come together and find a solution to this issue that is in the best long-term interest of the park and its users," she says.
The Court of Appeal awarded no damages, and also ruled that each party must pay its own legal costs.