Judge denies petition to stop Newport Beach residential development

Olen Properties tried to stop the apartment complex by using CEQA

Olen Properties' Igor Olenicoff with 4400 Von Karman (The Picerne Group, iStock)
Olen Properties' Igor Olenicoff with 4400 Von Karman (The Picerne Group, iStock)

A judge has denied a petition to stop an apartment complex from being built in Newport Beach.

Olen Properties sued the city on environmental grounds after officials approved an apartment complex at the Koll Center business park near John Wayne Airport, the Mercury News reported. The owner of the firm, billionaire real estate tycoon Igor Olenicoff, said the city didn’t adequately address the potential negative environmental impact of noise, traffic and air pollution.

Judge William Claster denied Olen’s petition and ruled that the city’s environmental review process was up to par, paving the way for developer Picerne Group to build a 312-unit complex at 4400 Von Karman Avenue.

Attorney Jennifer Hernandez, who works for Picerne, said the lawsuit was a case of “CEQA abuse” by using the California Environmental Quality Act to block new housing development.

“We don’t think he has any legitimate basis for suing,” Hernandez, who specializes in CEQA cases, said of Olenicoff. “This is not a guy who has any environmental track record.”

Olen said it had valid concerns about the quality of life for the residents of Newport Beach. “Olen’s national headquarters is in Newport Beach, and many of its employees and investments are also there,” Olen General Counsel Julie Ault told the outlet in an email. “Given that context, the traffic, clean air, noise and other negative impacts of the Picerne project are deeply important to Olen, as they are to everyone who lives and works in this area.”

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Ault said the company is reviewing the court ruling and will decide whether to appeal.

The proposed 13-acre development is planned for a parking lot at the intersection of Birch Street and Von Karman Avenue, adjacent to the 10-story office building Olen calls home.

Olen initially sued to stop the development in 2015, claiming it violated Koll Center deed restrictions.

Pro-housing groups joined the lawsuit on behalf of the project, saying it was needed to address the state’s housing shortage. “We don’t think this case was ever about the environment,” People for Housing co-founder Elizabeth Hansburg told the Mercury. “This case was about blocking new housing, especially affordable housing.”

Olen has said its property rights are being violated as the development would replace a 546-car parking lot with two parking structures with 560 parking spaces.

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[MN] — Victoria Pruitt