Deputy foreign minister wants to build sprawling mansion in glamorous Beverly Hills
A Saudi prince seeking to build a sprawling mansion in the famous 90210 zip code in the mountains above Beverly Hills, a project that has drawn opposition from neighbors, has sued the city of Los Angeles to hasten its construction.
A land development company belonging to Prince Abdul Aziz, the third son of Saudi King Abdullah and the Gulf Arab kingdom's deputy foreign minister, said in a lawsuit that California neighbors who oppose the project had pressured the city into requiring an environmental impact study.
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, the prince's company, Tower Lane Properties, said such a review was unnecessary.
"Petitioner carefully designed the project to minimise impacts on the environment and the surrounding area," it reads, adding that it "requires no discretionary approvals."
Prince Abdul Aziz purchased the land in 2009 and applied for permits to build three residences on the five-acre property. The city has so far not issued the necessary building permits, leaving the project in limbo.
Neighbors in the posh Benedict Canyon community went into an uproar over the initial proposed 85,000-square-foot compound, with an opposition group called the Save Benedict Canyon Campaign formed to halt the prince's plans.
In response to the opposition, a scaled-back construction plan totaling roughly 60,000 square feet was presented in 2010, the lawsuit said. Nonetheless, tension between the community and the developers is still intense.
The Save Benedict Canyon campaign says the scale of the construction is "like building a Walmart in our neighborhood," and that the construction crews needed for the project will overwhelm local streets with dirt, industrial equipment, and noise pollution.
Yet the project's lawyer, Benjamin Reznik, wrote in November 2011 that similarly sized houses upwards of 52,000 sq ft have been built in the neighborhood without any additional review, and the prince's proposal is not even the largest residential project in the area.
The city's planning department was inexplicably and erroneously demanding the project undergo "additional, unnecessary and inapplicable steps in the plan check review process, before the project is cleared for construction," he wrote, calling the treatment of the Saudi prince "unfair."
Reznik said he expected a hearing on the matter in the coming months but would not comment on the litigation.
Should the luxury property eventually be given the green light, Prince Abdul Aziz could count among his neighbours David and Victoria Beckham and Bruce Springsteen.
Local opponents to the mansion construction have found an ally in Los Angeles Council member Paul Koretz, who represents the neighborhood.
"The council member feels that any proposed project needs to undergo the appropriate scrutiny and discussion required by city policies," said Paul Neuman, the councilman's director of communications.
"Those policies allow for community input and help protect the environment. That's as true in this case as it is in any case," Neuman said.