A Saudi prince's Los Angeles family compound plan in Benedict Canyon has won an appellate court's order clearing the way for a grading permit across a large hillside area, even though the sponsors did not file a tract map.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeal, Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney upheld the trial court's order, which found no tract map is required where the land in question will not be subdivided.

The project called for construction of three houses, plus a pool, outbuildings and "accessory living quarters", on three contiguous hillside lots that together covered 85,000 square feet. The land use blog of the Jeffer Mangels law firm, whose attorneys represented project proponent Tower Lane Properties, said Tower Lane was "an entity established by Saudi Prince Abdulazziz ibn Abdulazziz al Saud, who is currently the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia."

The opinion's procedural history said city planners first responded to the proposed project by citing a local code requirement that a tentative tract map must be in place with Planning Department approval before a grading permit may be issued for a hillside area of 60,000 square feet or more. Tower Lane sought a waiver of the requirement. When Planning called for an environmental impact assessment Tower Lane balked and filed a writ petition in court. Two neighbors joined the city in opposing the writ.

The appellate court found the Los Angeles code section containing the grading requirement "by its plain language applies to subdivisions only." It said the code section's phrasing and context, including the very words, "tentative tract map", showed it was meant for subdivisions.

The city had argued the tract map procedure was an appropriate means for the city to review whether the grading was appropriate for the site or should be limited by constraints such as planning restrictions or easements. The court responded, "It is not our place to decide whether the City should make these inquiries, only whether [LA Municipal Code] section 91.7006.8.2 mandates them. It does not. " It noted separate provisions in the Building Code did call for the inquiries the city had in mind, but did not provide for them to be made by the "advisory agency" mentioned in the tract map statute.

The court further refused to defer to past department memoranda and decisions applying the statute, saying that in the examples put forward, either the decisions were made in the context of subdivisions or non-subdivision applicants for waivers were not put through environmental review as the appellants would have been.

The Jeffer Mangels blog quoted one of the firm's attorneys, Benjamin M. Reznik, as saying his client "has been the target of allegedly unfair and at times vicious attacks by local residents and the media" and "feels completely vindicated by the court ruling." http://landuselaw.jmbm.com/2014/03/appellate-court-rules-in-favor-of-saudi-prince-in-benedict-canyon-case.html.

The case is Tower Lane Properties v. City of Los Angeles, at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B244092.PDF .