A Sacramento judge rejected a legal challenge Thursday to a large new subdivision planned for North Natomas, saying the environmental issues raised were not enough to hold up the 3,500-home project.
Getting past the lawsuit was "a big hurdle," Tina Thomas, a lawyer for the project's developers, said in an email.
But that doesn't mean the 577-acre Greenbriar development, initially proposed by developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos and now controlled by a firm from Orange County, will go forward anytime soon.
There are still difficult wildlife issues to resolve with state and federal regulators. And nothing can be built until the levees protecting the Natomas basin are strengthened and the federal government lifts a de facto building moratorium that covers the entire area.
"They still have to get past that," said environmental lawyer Jim Pachl.
Pachl was one of the lawyers who sued the city of Sacramento and the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission on behalf of the Environmental Council of Sacramento and Friends of the Swainson's Hawk.
They argued that the defendants failed to adequately address a handful of issues in the environmental review mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.
The issues included whether the development near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 99 posed a pollution health risk to occupants and whether it would eliminate habitat for protected giant garter snakes and Swainson's hawks.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley rejected those contentions and others regarding flood protection and traffic impacts in a ruling sent out Thursday by email. "The petition is hereby denied," he wrote.
The City Council voted in 2008 to approve the project and annex the stretch of farmland on which it would be built. Greenbriar was billed by supporters as a smart-growth development complete with a light-rail stop that would help persuade the federal government to fund a light-rail extension to Sacramento International Airport.
Thomas, a lawyer for Tsakopoulos and current developer Integral Communities, of Newport Beach, noted that the project was supported by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, Regional Transit, which runs light rail, and local air-quality authorities.
Pachl said the case, while focusing on a narrow range of issues for legal reasons, has always been about the wisdom of Sacramento's continued sprawling growth.
North Natomas, which saw home prices plummet and a tidal wave of foreclosures in the housing crash, has plenty of buildable infill sites and doesn't need to eat up more farmland, he said. "The last thing a city needs is large new area of development."