Developer ‘completely shocked’ by county’s plan to seize property via eminent domain

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A developer that owns land in South LA that county officials want to seize using eminent domain says the move was a total surprise.

“It was a complete shock to us,” says Jennifer Duenas, chief operations officer with Sassony Properties.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors released plans Thursday to use eminent domain to take control of parcels at Vermont and Manchester avenues owned by both Sassony Properties and the CRA/LA, the successor agency to the defunct community redevelopment agency.

But Duenas says Sassony closed escrow two weeks ago on the remaining Vermont Knolls parcels owned by the CRA/LA.

The purchase was the culmination of two years of litigation that stalled progress on a project that would bring a fancy outdoor mall to the site at Vermont and Manchester avenues, Duenas says.

County officials “know we’ve been fighting the CRA/LA for two years” to buy the property, Duenas said. Last year, Duenas told the L.A. Weekly that the legal dispute with CRA/LA was the cause of the delays that had beset their project since its 2015 groundbreaking.

For nearly two decades, Sassony and its founder Eli Sasson have tried unsuccessfully to redevelop the property.

The county is considering taking the approximately four acres of land and nixing Sassony’s project, proposing instead a mixed-use complex with affordable housing, schools, stores, and community space.

Over at Streetsblog LA, Sahra Sulaiman writes that at a November 22 hearing for the South and Southeast Community Plans, an attorney with Silverstein Law Firm “accused Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson of hurting development in his community by supporting the effort to reclaim the vacant lots at Vermont and Manchester via eminent domain.”

Silverstein’s firm is best known for its work stalling the Hollywood Target and overturning the last update of the Hollywood Community Plan.

The county offered Sassony $11 million for the land in September, but Sassony did not accept. It has allotted $15.7 million to forcibly acquire the land, a county report shows.

Duenas says that Sassony has put together a team of consultants and lawyers that includes Silverstein’s firm to fight the eminent domain attempt. The county is holding a public hearing on Tuesday.

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