Judge blocks Riverside’s Magnolia Flats project over traffic concerns – San Bernardino Sun

Developers of the planned Magnolia Flats residential and retail center in Riverside have appealed a court injunction blocking the project after owners of a neighboring supermarket claimed it would restrict delivery truck access and customer parking at the grocery store.

In September, the owner of the Northgate Gonzalez Market, at 10391 Magnolia Ave., and owners of the land sued Magnolia Partnership LLC, which is developing the planned 450-unit apartment complex and 9,000-square-foot shopping center, which also includes a 67,473-square-foot park with a tot lot and a dog park, near the Galleria at Tyler.

A rendering of the Magnolia Flats residential and retail commercial center in Riverside. (Rendering courtesy of Magnolia Parnership LLC)

The plaintiffs — Northgate Gonzalez LLC, Wilson Holdings LP and Los Altos XXVII — alleged in the lawsuit that the project violates a 43-year-old easement agreed to by property owners. That agreement was designed to ensure the land would be used solely for commercial development so as not to disrupt access and traffic flow to and from businesses.

In October 2021, Riverside Superior Court Judge Chad Firetag granted the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction blocking the project until an agreement could be worked out resolving the traffic and parking concerns.

The Riverside City Council approved a conditional-use permit for the project in February 2021, but the city is not a party to the ongoing litigation and therefore declined to comment on it, city spokesman Phil Pitchford said.

Access concerns

The lawsuit claims the project is 98% residential and only 2% commercial, and thus violates the easement agreement. The narrower roads and construction of carports for the apartment complex would create barriers and safety issues for delivery trucks bound for Northgate, the plaintiffs claim.

“These barriers not only alter the existing route of Northgate’s commercial delivery trucks by converting existing commercial drive aisles to residential drive aisles that are only 24 feet in width, but also force the delivery trucks to meander through residential streets,” according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 14 in Riverside Superior Court.

Additionally, Northgate’s customers, according to the lawsuit, would be forced to “endure a labyrinthine journey just to reach the store,” which could threaten their continued loyalty and risk them going elsewhere to shop.

“They plopped 450 residents right in the middle of this. We’re supposed to bring 18-wheelers through this?” said attorney Theodore Stream, who is representing the plaintiffs.

The suit also claims the project would interfere with customer parking at Northgate, both by workers using the parking lot during construction and later by residents of the apartment complex.

Residential allowed

In its March 22 petition to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Magnolia Partnership maintained that Judge Firetag erred in his decision to block the project.

The 1979 easement agreement, according to the appellant brief, contained no land use restrictions, nor did it restrict any and all noncommercial uses of the property. Furthermore, Firetag erred by not designating income-producing apartments as commercial property.

“In short, income-producing apartment developments of over four units were a ‘commercial’ use in 1979 and remain so today,” according to the brief.

Additionally, the defendants claim that, in 2005, the easement was amended to delete certain use restrictions and to “expressly allow any and all residential uses.”

Darrin Olson, spokesman for Magnolia Partnership, said the planned multifamily housing development would greatly help Riverside achieve compliance with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation requirements.

“The city of Riverside is required to provide a minimum of 18,415 new housing units for the 2021-2029 Housing Element Cycle,” Olson said.

An added benefit of the Magnolia project, he said, “would be additional customers frequenting the businesses surrounding the Magnolia Property, businesses which include the proposed Northgate Market grocery store.”

Initially unopposed

Northgate, according to Olson, did not initially oppose the project during the city approval process, despite having notice of public hearings and opportunities to comment.

“After the city approved the project, Northgate filed a lawsuit to enjoin the project on the grounds that the project would impede Northgate’s delivery truck access to its loading dock,” Olson said.

He said the development plan would allow Northgate delivery trucks to have at least four possible routes they can use to access the market’s loading dock, and that large semi-trucks would have ample turning radiuses.

“This again raises Northgate’s possible motive: is it about money or truck access?” Olson said.

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