The Coastal Post - July 2000

Fraud Charged In French Ranch Development; Open Space Dedication Flawed

By Jim Scanlon

The dedication of 365 acres of the French Ranch to the Marin County Open Space District, showcased as an enormous public benefit since the development was first approved in 1995, is now stuck in escrow, with Open Space unable to accept title because of a law suit filed in Marin Superior Court on May 11, 2000. Also clouding the transfer are past and future property taxes on the parcel. $9,200.00 were due at the time that the Board of Supervisors accepted the dedication and back taxes now total $20,252.00

The suit filed by the Ferrari Trust, the Ann C Morrissey Revocable Trust and the New Product Research and Development Corp.(all owners of adjoining property), names French Ranch, Open Space, the Chicago Title Insurance Co. and Bank United, seeks easements on the ridge line road through the dedicated parcel in addition to costs for the lawsuit, including attorneys' fees and penalties.

The plaintiffs claim the road was used for many years and is the only effective means of accessing their properties, and that in 1994, Bruce Burman, as general partner and manager of the French Ranch LLC made an oral promise to Ann Morrissey that she ":would have full, unfettered and irrevocable access over aforementioned roadway running along the ridge line to gain access to her property"

The suit also alleges that Burman agreed to a mutual exchange of easements between Morrissey, Ferrari and the French Ranch, "...asking only that the recording of actual deeds memorializing the easements ...occur after he had obtained approval from the County of Marin for the development of the property..."

Since Barman's approval from the county, was highly publicized and controversial, in 1995, and hinged upon the dedication of the 450 acres on which the disputed road is located, it is difficult to understand why a written agreement was never obtained. If it can be shown that Burman agreed to a dedication of the parcel on which he had granted easements he could be considered in violation of his agreement with the county.

In effect the suit would prevent Open Space from acquiring title. In any event, Open Space would not be open space if there was a public or private roadway running through it.

There is no way of knowing when this case will be heard by the court, but presumably it will take many years to resolve. This raises questions as to what Marin County will do.

Will the county consider French Ranch in violation of the conditions of its master plan for development?

Will it continue to issue permits as the case works its way through the courts?

Would, or could , Open Space accept title if it involved sharing a road with auto traffic?

Will the county hold Burman responsible for the cost of its involvement in this lawsuit?

How will this affect the French Ranch Homeowners Association and its community sewage system which the county is sponsoring?

And, will the county forgive the $20,252.00 in back taxes. County records reveal a lien against the French Ranch by Grand Valley Framers for $146,000.00. French Ranch posted a $76,000.00 bond in April against the lien which allows the sale of completed homes to continue but defaulted on its county tax bill.

And, will taxes be paid as this matter sorts itself out over the years?

Coastal Post Home Page