A Concord-based housing developer has sued the City of Martinez over what the developer sees as unwarranted barriers to building a housing tract on a former golf course.

It is the latest development in what has been more than seven years of legal and political back-and-forth centered on the future of the former Pine Meadow Golf Course land in south central Martinez.

The suit, filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court in November by DeNova Homes Inc. and affiliated entities Civic Martinez LLC and Meadow Creek Group LLC, contends the city has been denying issuance of a grading permit on part of the 26.9-acre property over concerns about proper drainage on the property, and that without the proper work, flooding would occur there in heavy storms.

DeNova said those concerns arose only after a July 2019 settlement agreement by DeNova, the city and Friends of Pine Meadow, a local citizens group, for DeNova to build 65 houses on that property. The settlement was to have allowed the permit approval process to proceed.

The lawsuit claims an Aug. 27, 2020, letter from the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District to a contract engineer working for the city refutes the city’s claim that the housing development, without further measures taken, would create flooding problems in that area.

“The letter provides clear and demonstrable proof that there are no drainage issues, which city staff has falsely claimed was the source of delaying the development,” according to a statement issued by Sam Singer, a spokesman for DeNova.

Singer also said the existence of that letter was not discovered by DeNova officials until late December, and that the Martinez City Council also had not been made aware of the letter until that point.

Michael Colantuono, an attorney representing the city of Martinez, said that while the Aug. 27 letter from the flood control district suggests the housing project would have less damaging flooding impacts than previously believed, “It confirms that streets will flood after major storms and that the project will make that flooding last longer.”

Colantuono acknowledges, and regrets, the delay in making DeNova and elected city officials aware of the letter and its information sooner.

Prelude to a lawsuit

The drainage disagreement surfaced after the July 2019 settlement agreement was reached. DeNova officials went public, literally, the following January when two top company officials — CEO Dave Sansom and Dana Tsubota, DeNova’s executive vice president and general counsel — took the unusual step of speaking to the Martinez City Council during the open public comment period at the start of a regular council meeting.

Sansom told the council at that time, “This is the only way we can communicate with the council at this juncture. You can’t resolve things if you don’t talk about it.”

In a statement last week, Tsubota said, “The city’s violation of the settlement agreement has forced DeNova into the position filing a lawsuit to pursue its rights.”

Colantuono said that the latest issues, including the disagreement over grading and drainage, can be resolved “when the developer is willing to sit down and talk with us as he claims to want to do.”

The DeNova lawsuit seeks $35 million in damages. Singer said in an email that the figure represents the cost of the land and for development, financing and other costs associated with the proposed development there.

The lawsuit against the city is the latest in a series of recent events centered on the former Pine Meadow Golf Course, which closed in April 2015. The Martinez City Council had voted four months before that to rezone the golf course land from open space/recreation uses to residential use, to make way for what was then proposed as a 98-house development there.

A Martinez-based citizen group, the Friends of Pine Meadow, preferred the golf course remain undeveloped as open space, and collected petition signatures to force a public vote on the former golf course’s fate. Voters approved one of two competing land-use measures driven by the Pine Meadow battles in June 2018.

In April 2016, DeNova sued the Friends group, asserting the group was spreading lies about the housing project. That suit was later dismissed.

The Friends group sued the city in April 2017, challenging the Martinez council’s vote to rezone the golf course land for residential use to accommodate the DeNova housing project.

Colantuono said last week the city of Martinez still supports the housing project, called “Traditions at the Meadows,” but wants it done right.

“The city … has no intention of imposing a badly designed project on the community it serves or those who buy homes from DeNova,” Colantuono said.