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Tuesday, August 31, 2004 8:59:23 PM

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Olivenhain group sues owner of Fortuna Ranch project


By: BEN FRUMIN - Staff Writer

ENCINITAS ---- Suzy Brown, owner and developer of a 15,000-square-foot house being built on Fortuna Ranch Road in Olivenhain, said Friday that a civil lawsuit accusing her of misrepresenting herself and her project is "malicious" and "incredibly frivolous."

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by a 100-member residents group, alleges that Brown violated the state's Business and Professions Code by making contrary and misleading statements to different groups of people regarding the planned use of her in-progress home ---- which would be the largest single-family residence in the city.

The lawsuit alleges Brown committed "unfair, fraudulent and/or misleading acts" by representing the project as a single-family home to the city and neighbors and as an upscale rehabilitation center to investors.

In April, neighbors found a 33-page business plan online that outlined for the site a high-end "addiction-healing center" with "luxury accommodations for up to 41 guests" served by an "equal or greater number of staff."

Such a facility would violate city zoning laws. City officials have said if such a facility were opened, they would move aggressively to shut it down.

Brown said Friday she had briefly considered the possibility of a 41-bed facility, but abandoned the idea in March.

"Changing your plans, even as often as I do, is not defrauding," Brown said.

Brown maintained that the Fortuna Ranch structure would be used only as a home for herself, her extended family, and as a six-patient substance-abuse treatment center ---- a use officials have said is legal.

A provision in the state's Health and Safety Code mandates that a recovery or treatment facility that serves six or fewer people must be governed by the same rules and regulations as a single-family home.

Sue Loftin, an attorney representing the residents group, said her clients want construction on the house halted and profits or potential profits returned to those who invested in Brown's project.

"We do not want her to profit from past misrepresentations and thereby hurt the neighbors," Olivenhain activist Bruce Ehlers said.

Loftin said that if the value of homes surrounding Brown's property are hurt by this episode, her clients will seek compensation.

Loftin said Brown has 30 days after being served to answer the complaint. Loftin said the case could go to trial as soon as next summer.

Brown said she has appealed to her neighbors to rescind the lawsuit.

She said that if the group pursues the lawsuit, she will not hesitate to file "massive countersuits" against 30 residents who carried petitions opposing her project. Brown said the petitions defamed her character.

"Now they're getting dirty and so I'm going to have to get dirty," Brown said in a phone interview earlier this week.

Contact staff writer Ben Frumin at (760) 943-2313 or bfrumin@nctimes.com

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