Chino Hills Wants To Let Encroachers Buy Land

With Mike and Kim Denton’s lawsuit against the city of Chino Hills over encroachment issues scheduled for trial on September 30, city officials have redoubled earlier efforts to settle as many of the 237 other matters involving either lot line disputes between the city and residents or longstanding encroachments onto public open space by the city’s homeowners.
Previous efforts to resolve the issue  with various homeowners have failed. The matter has come about as a consequence of hundreds – the city has quantified the number at 238 – of homeowners building on or placing improvements in various forms onto property beyond their respective property lines,  including landscaping, walls, saunas, pools , gazebos and swing sets.
In the case of the Dentons, that matter was forced to a point of crisis when the  couple, who purchased their  home on Hunters Gate Circle in 1999 from Gloria Vitagliano, were informed by the city in 2010 that the furthest extension of their backyard was encroaching on city-owned open space and that they had to remove their pool and spa along with landscaping that was already extant when they purchased the home. The Dentons offered the city $10,000 for the property, but the city rejected that offer, instead saying it would provide them with a 15-year easement for the continued use of the property.  The Dentons then retained the firm of Gresham, Savage, Nolan and Tilden and sued the city.
The Dentons claim the city allowed the Vitagliano/Denton encroachment, which was conspicuous and open, to stand, and did nothing to interfere with Ms. Vitagliano’s or their occupation of the approximately 1,574 square feet of land for more than 15 years. Nor did the city act in a timely manner to prevent them from removing a wrought-iron fence and replacing it with a glass wall and block fence, the Dentons assert.
After attempts by the city to have the case dismissed outright, assistant city attorney Elizabeth Calciano made a motion to strike portions of the complaint. On March 11, Superior Court Judge Joseph Brisco ruled the case will go to trial September 30 with all of its causes of action intact. Last month, the Dentons made a motion for summary judgment, but Brisco rejected that, ruling that triable issues of material fact exist with respect to the correct zoning of the property, whether Vitagliano and by extension the Dentons violated local ordinances and zoning laws which resulted in a failure to comply with the covenants, codes and restrictions on the property, whether the Dentons can obtain what they are seeking through a lot line adjustment and whether certain previous statements made by either the city or the Dentons contradict the positions they are now taking in regard to the lawsuit.
The Dentons had no knowledge of the encroachment, which the city was obliged to redress in a timely manner, according to the Dentons’ lawyer, Theodore Stream.
The city, however, maintains that a document recorded at the time of the sale contains a disclosure statement from Vitagliano to the Dentons stating there is a “possible discrepancy regarding lot size/fence line.” The city maintains that this demonstrates the Dentons were on notice as to the possible encroachment at the time of the sale.
The city is now seeking a “global” solution, having floated the viability of agreeing to sell most of the disputed encroached-upon properties to homeowners citywide. On July 9, the city council discussed just such an approach.
In 2010, the city had undertaken to inform encroaching property owners about the issue. The Dentons were among those so informed and that effort triggered the pending lawsuit.  The city’s approach in resolving the issue at that time was hampered by the suggestion that encroaching property owners would be “fined” as a consequence of their occupation of property to which they did not have title.  A far more comprehensive notification effort was made this summer, with 238 property owners identified as having encroached onto city-owned open space given notices to that effect. Those notices, sent from the city’s code enforcement division, went out to the offending property owners on July 31. Those notices informed the residents of the city’s contemplated open space sales program.
A major issue is the price residents would be willing to pay and the amount the city is willing to accept for the property in question.
According to a city staff report, there is interest on the part of some of the encroaching residents to cure the dispute, including making those land purchases. Others told by the city that they have encroached on city property have taken the position that they are not occupying public open space at all. Some of the homeowners receiving notices were unaware of the issue. Others had been previously notified. Still others who had not been previously notified were cognizant that the issue existed but have been noncommittal in their response.
Tentatively, the city has indicated it envisions being paid $6 to $17 per square foot to relinquish title to the encroached upon open space.
Of those the city maintains have encroached, some simply inherited the encroachment from previous owners. In some cases, the encroachments preexisted the city’s incorporation in 1991. In some cases, the owners themselves expanded their property lines or put in landscaping onto property the city claims is public open space.
The city has indicated it does not want to assess blame or fault with regard to the encroachments but wants simply to move ahead with solving the issue by means of a formalized sale of the encroached-upon property in question to those willing to make the purchases.

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