Settlement reached in lawsuit filed by Cielo residents in Rancho Santa Fe

Five residents of Rancho Cielo Estates, an upscale community of luxury homes perched in the hills northeast of the Rancho Santa Fe village, have settled a lawsuit filed in 2013 against the developer of the enclave.

The settlement, reached Feb. 29 as a trial on the lawsuit was set to begin in San Diego Superior Court, calls for homeowners to elect all five members of the community’s homeowner association board, and also for the developer, Rancho Cielo Estates Ltd., to sign a contract within 90 days for construction of a road that would provide secondary access in and out of the community.

The lawsuit was filed by three families, all of whom reside in Rancho Cielo Estates: David and Marcia Radel, Leonard and Diana Makens, and Mike Noorani. The defendants were Rancho Cielo Estates Ltd., Rancho Cielo Realty Co., Michael Harbushka and Linda Hunt, according to a transcript of the settlement hearing before Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer.

“The settlement was important. It allows the homeowners, for the first time in 15 years, to have the opportunity to elect people of their choice” to the homeowners association board, said attorney Mike Aguirre, who represented the plaintiffs.

Aguirre said the three families who filed the lawsuit paid the costs themselves, although in an interview, David Radel and Mike Noorani said about 50 other Rancho Cielo families also contributed to the cost of the litigation. Under the settlement, each side will pay its own legal fees.

“We did it for the benefit of the community,” said Radel. “We want this community to thrive. We want property values to go up.”

A message left by this newspaper for Peter Fagrell, president of Rancho Cielo Estates, was not returned by press-time.

According to Aguirre and the homeowners, the community currently has 436 lots, and about 280 homes have been built. Radel and Noorani said the lots range in size from one to three acres, and the average home size is about 5,000 to 7,000 square feet. The average sales prices for the homes is about $2.7 million, they said.

The current dispute between homeowners and the developer began in 2012, when residents learned that the developer planned to build a 42-unit condo project in the community. “That’s how the whole thing got started,” said Noorani. Residents fought the condo proposal, and later it was voted down by the County Board of Supervisors.

The lawsuit settlement calls for the developer to complete Via Ambiante from the back of Rancho Cielo to Harmony Grove Road. The developer agreed to enter the construction contract within 90 days of the settlement. Currently, there is only one way in or out of the community, from Del Dios Highway.

“One way in and out is not a good strategy for public safety,” said Radel.

The developer also agreed to withdraw its three appointed members from the homeowners association board. Elections conducted by an independent inspector approved by the developer, the HOA and the plaintiffs will be held by June 30. Four of the board’s five seats will be up for grabs in the upcoming election.

The developer will have one HOA vote for each lot for which it pays assessments under the settlement agreement.

The settlement, said Aguirre, “sets the stage for making life better for everyone who lives in the association.”

“It’s a huge upside for our community going forward,” said Noorani. “The future of this community is huge.”