Del Mar settles with billionaire over hedges

Tanya Mannes

March 9, 2010

Del Mar officials are settling a lawsuit with billionaire Madeleine Pickens, who fought an order to prune hedges on her beach patio that were blocking a neighbor’s coastal views.

Pickens has trimmed the plants. The settlement is expected to result in Del Mar’s view laws remaining intact; the city paying about $20,000 in legal costs; and no restriction being placed on Pickens’ multimillion-dollar house that could affect its value.

Pickens, the wife of Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, lives in Del Mar part-time. Madeleine Pickens owns the Del Mar Country Club and the beachfront home that she bought in 2007 for $35 million — the highest sale price recorded in the county.

In December, the Del Mar City Council told Pickens to cut the plants screening her glassed-in beach patio down to 2 feet tall after her neighbors complained that they couldn’t see down the coast to La Jolla.

Pickens sued, saying the order infringed on her property rights. She contended that the city’s enforcement of its view ordinance was “arbitrary, capricious and unconstitutional.”

The City Council met in a closed session Monday to discuss the lawsuit. Then, in an open meeting, the council unanimously and without discussion approved a resolution stating that Pickens had complied with the landscaping order, based on an inspection.

The resolution also stated that the city would take no further action, and would not seek a deed restriction on Pickens’ property. If the city had imposed a “covenant of restrictions” on the deed, it would be a notice to future owners of the house that landscaping heights were restricted and could affect the value of the property.

City Attorney Leslie Devaney confirmed afterward that the resolution is part of a pending settlement.

“In exchange for that resolution, it is our expectation that (Pickens) will file a dismissal,” Devaney said.

Reached yesterday, Pickens said this was her first experience dealing with a neighbor dispute in many years of living along the Del Mar coast, and she is glad it’s over.

“I guess the moral of the story is: ‘Meet your neighbors before you buy a house,’ ” Pickens said.

The neighbors, Charles and Lynn Gaylord, have not responded to repeated requests for comment and did not return calls yesterday.

Pickens’ lawsuit sought damages in excess of $25,000 and attorneys’ fees, but she will not receive any money under the agreement.

Del Mar has spent an estimated $20,000 defending the lawsuit, Devaney said.

The lawsuit centered on a 2002 city law that empowers officials to resolve disputes among neighbors about vegetation blocking views. Devaney said the Pickens settlement will not affect the city’s view ordinance.

The Gaylords said in a city complaint that Pickens’ evergreen shrubs and palms partially blocked their view, and that they had approached her directly about the problem without success. The Gaylords cited a 1995 landscape plan the city approved for the home that limited the size of hedges to protect views. They said the previous owner allowed the plants to grow, but said Pickens added more plants after moving in.

Pickens contended that when she bought the house, no one disclosed that the property had binding restrictions on the size or height of landscaping, although the Gaylords made a formal complaint while she was in escrow.

Mayor Richard Earnest declined to comment on the case.