‘Visually important ridgeline’ trial to start next month in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

‘Visually important ridgeline’ trial to start next month in Nevada County

The Nevada County judge overseeing a years-long legal struggle over land use between the county and a Lake Wildwood couple ruled Wednesday that the trial will begin next month.

Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling is scheduled Nov. 17 to begin hearing evidence in the case of Juliet Erickson and Peter Lockyer, both of whom want to build an office/garage on their property.

At issue is whether the county violated the couple’s rights when, as a requirement to get the building permit, it ordered them to build a tree line as a buffer to protect a “visually important ridgeline.”

“The county had no legal authority to make that condition,” said attorney John Bilheimer, representing the couple. “Basically, we have an improper condition.”

Bilheimer on Tuesday sought to have Dowling rule that the county had violated his clients’ rights. He wanted Dowling to proceed to a trial in which the judge would determine monetary damages.

The judge declined, saying he wants to hear new evidence at trial that the county had unconstitutionally violated their property rights.

The couple argue the tree line condition was improper and qualified as a “taking” — a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights that requires government to compensate people for taking their property.

Dowling in August ordered the county to issue the building permit with no restrictions. However, he made no decision on if a taking had occurred, leading to the November trial date.

If Dowling rules at the end of the trial no taking has occurred, the couple is entitled to no monetary damages from the county based on their alleged Fifth Amendment violation.

The county already has spent $261,000 on their attorneys, and on Tuesday authorized a total of $425,000.

The couple has spent about $1 million.

Attorney Michael Colantuono, representing Nevada County, argued that Dowling’s decision ordering the county to issue the building permit doesn’t mean a taking occurred.

“That’s an assertion,” Colantuono said of Bilheimer’s argument. “There’s no authority for that.”

Dowling alone will determine the verdict once the trial has ended. No jury will be called.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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