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Ollar-Burris, Placer County settle in lot split civil case

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A lengthy, costly legal battle alleging illegal lot splitting by a former planning commissioner that has roiled Placer County's political waters for more than three years has ended with a settlement agreement. Meeting in closed session in Lake Tahoe, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to approve an agreement with former Planning Commissioner Michelle Ollar-Burris of Auburn, Sacramento attorney Thomas Van Horne and Grass Valley consultant George Wasley in a civil case the county initiated in November 2007. Under the agreement, the county will dismiss its lawsuit in its entirety and Ollar-Burris, Van Horne and Wasley - who counter-sued Placer - will also quit their claims. Ollar-Burris said Monday that her case was bolstered by the number of people in the community who supported her legal battle and clients who stayed with her Downtown Auburn real-estate business. The settlement was bittersweet, she said. “It was surreal,” Ollar-Burris said. “Over the past four years, we’ve spent all of our retirement money. It was like a nightmare we couldn’t wake up from.” Ollar-Burris and co-defendants Van Horne and Wasley won't walk away without a financial sting. Under the terms of the settlement, they agreed to pay a total of $400,000. No wrong-doing is admitted in the settlement and Ollar-Burris, Van Horne and Wasley have agreed to "abide by the subdivision map act and all laws related to the subdividing and parceling of property in the county," a statement issued Monday by the county said. They have also agreed to a three-year moratorium on several parceling activities for properties in Placer County. The activities affected by the moratorium include loaning money for the purchase, splitting or sale of property by another person - and then purchasing and splitting one of the subsequent properties. Ollar-Burris, who was ousted as a planning commissioner by the Board of Supervisors in mid-2007 after an initial investigation by the county into lot-splitting activities, is to pay no more or less than $150,000 of the $400,000, according to the settlement. Ollar-Burris said that a separate agreement among attorneys on her side will see her pay no more than $75,000 of the $150,000. Van Horne will pay the other $75,000, she said. The county's main point of contention was that Ollar-Burris conspired with Wasley and Van Horne to split lots that should have gone through a more costly subdivision process. Any claims of illegality against any of the properties are now nullified. Ollar-Burris has vehemently denied the allegations, stating that the county had inspected all her records, interviewed dozens of clients, gone through more than a decade of bank records and found nothing illegal. Over five years, Ollar-Burris said she was involved directly in three parcel maps. “But I was a broker for people who split lots so they said I was somehow involved in that,” Ollar-Burris said Monday. The trial was expected to move forward sometime later this year. It was a case that the county had already spent close to $200,000 to litigate, with Chico attorney Richard Crabtree serving as lead attorney. Ed Duckers, Van Horne's attorney, said in an earlier interview that the county was running out of money on a case it appeared it could not win. The agreement also states that each party will be responsible for their own legal costs.