COEUR d'ALENE - A group of downtown condo residents who live next door to a proposed 14-story high-rise building filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and developer to prevent the $20 million project from happening.
The suit, filed by a group of Coeur d'Alene North Condominium residents called Coeur d'Alene North Home Owners View Preservation, states the proposed project would harm existing residents' property rights and that the city didn't protect their rights when they appealed to the governing body.
"The comprehensive plan for defendant city of Coeur d'Alene asserts to protect and preserve private property rights in the development and implementation of land-use policies and regulations," the complaint states.
It was filed by attorney James Crowe, who also lives in the North condos, and attorney Scott Reed. The two have said for months they would be prepared to litigate should the project applicant, One Lakeside, be allowed to build a high-rise downtown.
"We think we have a legitimate claim," Reed said Thursday. "We recognize it's unusual."
Colorado-based One Lakeside initially approached the city Nov. 1 about the proposed building.
The 14-story residential building would sit on the corner of First Street and Lakeside Avenue, where the current Mudge building is, and would have commercial space on the ground floor.
The complaint states that its construction would destroy views of Lake Coeur d'Alene, Tubbs Hill, City Park and the city of Coeur d'Alene for residents who have lived there for roughly 30 years. It points to a 2012 guideline by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on the state's Regulatory Takings Act that says "government is instituted no less for the protection of property than of the persons of individuals."
"I feel a responsibility ... the property rights of Idahoans are enforced," the AG's guideline says.
Reed has estimated in previous interviews that property values could decrease by more than $1 million.
After a series of meetings late last year, the city's Design View Commission approved the project design on grounds that it adhered to the city's downtown building guidelines. North Condo resident Harold Damiano then appealed that decision to the City Council Jan. 14. The city, on advice of its legal counsel, denied the appeal because it only could judge it on design criteria, which it does fit.
But Reed said Thursday, which is also reflected in the complaint, that the city should offer some avenue where residents could have taken their private property concerns as part of an appeal.
Greg Hills, the Colorado-based developer spearheading the project, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday, but has told The Press in previous interviews the company has the resources to handle possible litigation and was prepared to go that route if a suit was filed.
Talk of litigation began as far back as the fall.
He also spoke with some concerned neighbors last year during the design process and altered the design of the building to a taller, skinnier version to impede less of the view. He told The Press during the design review that the developers have been trying "to play nice in the sandbox" with neighbors.
"We always felt, I guess, we had the right to do what we're doing," he said in January after the appeal was denied and he was allowed to get building permits.
The city's legal department couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.
Deputy city attorney Warren Wilson said during the January appeal that the AG's takings guideline referred to when governments took private property. The issue comes down to a private property owner legally doing what he wants with his own land, and that's not something with which the city should interfere.
"Frankly, it's not a suit I'm worried about," Wilson said at the time.
Reed estimated about half of the 84 units would be affected by the new construction. He said though the residents never secured airway rights above the Mudge building, that does not act as a waiver of their legal property rights. Crowe said the residents weren't offered the chance to buy them.