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Complex Issues in Property Development Disputes

Disputes about environmental issues are inevitably complex, especially when multiple parties are involved. A recent case-filed in Lassen County, California-pits various environmental groups against the developer of a four-season resort and the county board who certified and approved the building project. While litigation like this often involves environmental or contract law, issues such as these usually become highly politicized.

Development v. Environment

Earlier this year, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and county voters approved the development of the construction of a Westwood, California, four-season resort at Dyer Mountain. However, environmental groups including Mountain Meadows Conservancy, Sierra Watch and the Sierra Club, have filed suit in Lassen County Superior Court over the approved project claiming the Board failed to analyze the environmental impacts of the proposal as required by law.

Legal Arguments

According to the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) mandates that various state and local agencies review the EIR or Environmental Impact Report and attempt to lessen any serious environmental effects of a development proposal. (The EIR is a report provided by the developer outlining potential consequences of the project.)

One way to lesson environmental impacts is by investigating alternatives, within the EIR that may negatively affect the environment.

However, the environmental groups believe that the county did not adequately analyze the EIR prior to approving the construction and say further inquiry is needed.

But, the county states their decision to certify the EIR was informed and based on appropriate evidence.

Political Issues

Along with the legal issues involved, politics also play a significant part in the equation.

The county argues that the groups' intention is simply to "substitute their will for the electorates" through the lawsuit. The county says, the "objective is not really to obtain additional analysis or information in the EIR. Petitioners instead seek to stop or delay the project approved by voters by any means possible."

The county is also endorsing the proposal because the area and people surrounding the resort, particularly in Westwood, would profit from the employment and financial benefits of the development. A highly appealing argument considering that in today's economy, these are sensitive issues.

Environmental Impacts

As required, the developer did in fact inform the public (via the EIR) about the potential project and suggested the county decision makers review any possible threats the development posed to the community. However, the court's decision will rest on not whether the EIR was properly administered but whether the county gathered enough information-such as traffic patterns and climate changes in the area-on the impacts of the project.

The Dyer Mountain development case is a prime example of the complex legal, political and environmental issues involved in new construction. Any lawsuit suit involving property development should involve the consultation of any experienced business and commercial law attorney.

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