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by Ron Davis
A dispute over an accessway to a California shopping center has ended with an outcome that decidedly favors a neighboring property owner.
The shopping center is located in Orange, and at stake in the dispute is a former public road and a cul-de-sac that the city abandoned prior to development of the shopping center. The neighboring property owner operates a service station on that road and asked for an easement for customers to use the road to enter and leave the station. The city of Orange granted that request.
Later, the neighboring property owner won approval from the city of Orange to expand the size of the service station. Along with that expansion, the property owner wanted to include access to the cul-de-sac that was part of the abandoned road.
In response, the shopping center’s owners installed concrete-filled posts on the abandoned road, thereby blocking any access. The neighbor responded with a lawsuit, and the shopping center owners duly removed the concrete posts.
Fearing continued controversy, however, the neighbor asked the courts to grant it title to a right-of-way on the road. The shopping center’s owners then countersued, seeking title to “an easement...to include the cul-de-sac” based on their right to “complete and free unrestricted use” of the roadway.
Under state law, however, when a local government abandons a road or highway, title to the property reverts to the abutting property owners. And in this case the abutting property owner of the cul-de-sac is the neighboring property owner.
In ruling in favor of the center’s neighbor, a California court explained, “The [shopping center’s owners] have not shown that use of the cul-de-sac is necessary to maintain adequate circulation for its tenants and their customers. At best, there was testimony of their occasional use by truckers making deliveries to a grocery store tenant to turn vehicles around. More significantly, the center’s owners completely blocked the use of the cul-de-sac by installing the concrete posts in an apparent effort to derail the neighbor’s redevelopment plans. That action contradicts the assertion that the cul-de-sac was essential to allow adequate circulation on its property.”
Concluded the judge, “The development of the cul-de-sac was in accord with the city’s purposes when creating the access easement and would not adversely affect interests of the other property owners along the easement.” (BP West Coast Products v. GVD Commercial Properties, Inc., 2007 WL264878 [Cal.App. 4 Dist.])
Decision: January 2007
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