The Flanders Foundation v. City of Carmel-by-the-Sea (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 603
The Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled that, in a project involving restoration and sale of an historic mansion, the city had a sufficient basis for rejecting as economically infeasible alternatives involving retaining ownership of the mansion.
The Flanders Mansion is an historic, 1920s-era Tudor Revival residence. The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea owns the mansion. The site is surrounded by a 35-acre nature preserve, also owned by the city. The city certified an EIR and approved the sale of the mansion in view of the substantial cost of implementing necessary repairs. The Foundation sued. The trial court granted the petition. Both sides appealed.
First, the Foundation argued the EIR did not contain an adequate analysis of potential future uses of the mansion in light of the Surplus Lands Act. Under that statute, when a local agency wishes to dispose of surplus property, the agency must offer to sell or lease the property to other agencies for use as affordable housing or for park purposes before the property can be sold to a private party. The EIR recognized the sale of the property would be subject to the act. The Foundation argued, and the trial court agreed, that the EIR was deficient because it did not analyze the impacts of potential uses for the property authorized under the act. That was so because an agency buying under the act would not be subject to mitigation measures or conservation easements adopted by the city when it approved the sale. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the city had authority to require, as conditions of sale, adherence to these measures and easements. Moreover, the city did not have to analyze the impacts of using the mansion as affordable housing because the record supported the city’s conclusion that this use was not reasonably foreseeable in view of the high cost of rehabilitating the mansion and complying with adopted mitigation measures.
Second, during the CEQA process, a commenter asked the city to consider reducing the size of the parcel sold with the mansion. The Court ruled the Final EIR’s response was inadequate. Reducing the size of the parcel would also reduce one of the project’s significant and unavoidable impacts: a reduction in public parkland. The Final EIR had not provided a complete response to this proposal.
Third, the Foundation argued the city erred by failing to include an economic feasibility analysis in the EIR. That analysis was prepared by a real-estate consultant to address the economic feasibility of the various alternatives analyzed in the EIR. The Court ruled the city could rely on information in the record in making its feasibility determinations, regardless of whether that information appeared in the EIR itself.
Fourth, the EIR analyzed alternatives focusing on restoring and leasing the mansion for residential or non-residential use, or doing nothing (no project). All these alternatives were environmentally superior to the proposed project. The city rejected them, however, as economically infeasible, citing the consultant’s feasibility report. The issue for the Court was whether this report constituted substantial evidence supporting the city’s decision. The Court ruled that it did. The report estimated that restoration would cost $1.4 million, and lease payments would not enable the city to recoup this cost for many years. Selling the mansion would recover these costs, however, because the appraised value of the restored mansion was estimated at $4 million. Doing nothing meant the city would incur ongoing maintenance costs, with no revenue to cover them. Under such circumstances, the city acted within its discretion in rejecting these alternatives.
Finally, the Court ruled that substantial evidence supported the city’s adopted statement of overriding considerations. The city acted within its discretion in deciding to sell the mansion, subject to mitigation measures and easements requiring its sensitive restoration. Although the city could have retained ownership of the restored the building (alternatives the city rejected as infeasible), that did not mean the city could not cite restoration in its list of project benefits, even if the city intended to sell the restored mansion.