Novus project continues to spark suits

By BILL MILLIGAN

More residents of the Sunset Manor subdivision in Sunset Hills filed lawsuits last week seeking damages from a variety of defendants, including the Novus Equities Co., the city of Sunset Hills and Westfield America Inc.

“There’ll be a few more filed this week,” said David Weiss of Weiss and Associates.

The lawsuits are related to the Novus Development Co’s. proposed MainStreet at Sunset, a $165.2 million lifestyle shopping center at Interstate 44, Watson Road and South Lindbergh Boulevard. Sunset Hills aldermen in May approved Novus’ request for $42 million in tax-increment-financing assistance and $20 million in transportation development district reimbursements to help fund the shopping center.

The project would raze 254 homes and several businesses in the Sunset Manor subdivision. Only the Hampton Inn and Denny’s restaurant would remain. The Board of Aldermen also authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire those properties Novus does not have under contract.

Closings on the more than 200 homes were scheduled to begin Aug. 22. But Novus learned Aug. 18 its lender had withdrawn its funding for the development and the closings were delayed until a new lender could be secured. Since then, Novus has continued searching for financing, but has been unable to find a new lender.

In December, the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to refer the development back to the city’s TIF Commission, which will consider changes made to the proposal after a public hearing conducted last March.

Opponents of the redevelopment project last summer filed two lawsuits against the city of Sunset Hills. Since then, several other suits have been filed.

In November, attorney Patricia Wilcox of Weiss and Associates filed suit against the city of Sunset Hills, Novus, its subsidiaries, Novus President Jonathan Browne, Lisa Browne of Novus, Westfield America, WEA Crestwood Plaza, LLC and Missouri Residential I, LLC on behalf of four homeowners in Sunset Manor.

In the suit, Wilcox alleges a Westfield subsidiary, Missouri Residential I LLC, purchased properties in Sunset Manor “in order for it to have standing to bring a lawsuit against the city of Sunset Hills to stop the redevelopment project. Upon information and belief, Missouri Residential I, LLC joined with five other plaintiffs and filed two lawsuits against the city of Sunset Hills concerning the city’s use of TIF financing and eminent domain.”

The suit further alleges, “Due to the lawsuits, Novus Equities Co. has stated that it is unable to get financing to close on the purchase of the real estate owned by the plaintiffs and therefore is in breach of contracts with the plaintiffs.”

Wilcox’s suit seeks unspecified monetary damages from each defendant, attorney’s fees and punitive damages. The court is expected to hear a motion to dismiss the suit this month.

“Westfield bought property knowing full well this development was going on,” Weiss said. “Then, they fund a lawsuit that stops the redevelopment process. If it was done with bad intent that may make it ac-tionable.”

Other residents last week joined lawsuits filed by attorney Paul Ferber against Browne, his companies and the city, bringing to more than 30 the number of homeowners taking action against the city since Sept. 28 when Browne told homeowners his company would not be able to purchase their real estate as set forth in agreements his companies entered into with homeowners.