Westmont Neighbors File Suit Against County

Citizens Concerned Over Westmont Expansion, the coalition of Montecito residents that has led a vigorous opposition against Westmont College’s development plans, filed a lawsuit yesterday asserting that the County was wrong in approving more than 370,000 square feet of construction.

In its approval of the buildout, the County disregarded local and state zoning codes and made incorrect assumptions about how much the college is allowed to build, the lawsuit said.

By more than doubling the square footage of campus facilities, the project “will have significant environmental impacts” on wildlife, soil erosion, traffic, parking, fire protection, air quality and aesthetics, according to the 19-page lawsuit.

“If this goes through, the impact to the surrounding community would be devastating,” said the coalition’s attorney, Barry Cappello, managing partner at the law firm Cappello & Noël.

The lawsuit also takes issue with the project’s supplemental environmental impact report, or SEIR, by contending that the County made incorrect calculations about construction impacts and understated the “scope” of future development.

The Westmont Masterplan update would be the culmination of more than five years of work to fulfill the college’s vision by adding hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of new facilities to the 111-acre, wooded campus. This includes a $150-million first phase of construction that accounts for 150,000 square feet of buildings – Adams Center, Winter Hall, chapel/auditorium, a dormitory, the dining commons addition and the observatory.

The County Board of Supervisors approved the project on February 27 following appeals of unanimous approvals made by the Montecito Planning Commission and the Montecito Board of Architectural Review.

Responding to the lawsuit by telephone, Cliff Lundberg, Westmont’s executive vice president, said the opposition’s “contentions are without merit” and that its assertions that the college was not in compliance with its conditional use permit were “completely unfounded.” He said the coalition’s objections would be a “tremendous waste of money” to both the County and the school.

“The bottom line is that we were hoping these individuals would respect the unanimous approval by local decision makers,” Lundberg said. “We are obviously disappointed and frustrated that they chose to ignore the decisions of these governing bodies and allow this to continue.”

While the lawsuit was filed against the County, Lundberg said the school would appoint “several lawyers” to defend the County. He neglected to identify those attorneys by name. Lundberg couldn’t predict when the suit would go to trial, but he expected the opposition to take as long as possible.

“They’ve shown that they’re prone to delay tactics,” he said, “and we expect to see more of those.”

For the complete story, please read the next print edition of the Journal, which hits the stands on Wednesday.