By Lisa P. White
Contra Costa Times
"We bought there with the idea of it being open space," Mark Thomson said.
But a potential obstruction looms on the horizon.
Gary Freitas, who owns the property at 635 Vine Hill Way down the hill from the Thomsons' house, has been trying for years to get the city to change the designation from open space to residential on three of his acres so he can build four luxury homes.
easements protect open space, but two incorrectly recorded easements could open
up more than
"The reason we use (scenic easements) is it protects land in perpetuity, in theory, so no one can ever build on it," said Albert Lopez, deputy community development director. "It's a tool the city can use to be able to get open space without having to either own it or rezone it."
Typically, property owners agree to easements in return for city approval of housing projects that include valuable extras such as additional lots or larger lot sizes.
easements only work if they are attached to the deed. Freitas
and the owners of property at
The City Council classified the Freitas property as "permanent open space" in 1976.
"We have attorneys who are stating that after 25 years, if you overlooked something, it's just too bad," said Freitas, who has sought permission to build on his property three times. "I never signed anything saying I agreed that it can be private open space."
Thomson, who represents a group of neighbors who have hired an attorney to prevent Freitas from building on the land, disagrees.
"It comes down to the fact that the city and developer of the entire subdivision made an agreement that it would be open space," he said. "It was open space, and it should stay open space."
Scott Sommer represents Peter Ostrosky
and Bob Devries, owners of the 163-acre
said the easement is invalid because the original owner and the city never
agreed where the
"I think the chance of open space being rezoned is probably remote unless we get to the point at some time in the future when it's crucial, and we need land for homes," said Mayor Rob Schroder.
said the original owner of the Ostrosky property
never bothered to record the easement, although the council approved a
resolution accepting the
About the Ostrosky matter, Schroder added, "I think the intent is pretty clear what the city was asking for and what (the orginal owner) agreed to, so it's going to be played out in court."
the deputy community development director, acknowledged that both easements
were incorrectly recorded, although he said the original owner of the
"That's the big lesson to the city. You have to record them properly to make sure you don't have problems," Lopez said. "That, of course, makes the land much more vulnerable."
to the Greenbelt Alliance,
"You can't take designated open space for granted; things can always change based on political changes or property owners," Wong said. "The bottom line is there are several ways that people continue to build on open space, and it's really up to the community to protect this open space by always being vigilant."