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City and Developer at Odds Over Building

The safety of people flying airplanes into Montgomery Field took center stage this week in an escalating dust-up between San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre and local developer Sunroad Enterprises. F

The safety of people flying airplanes into Montgomery Field took center stage this week in an escalating dust-up between San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre and local developer Sunroad Enterprises. Full Focus reporter Amita Sharma has the story.

The dispute centers over the height of a 12-story building that Sunroad Enterprises is constructing near Montgomery Field. The Federal Aviation Administration and a local pilots' group say the building is a hazard  to people flying into the airport in bad weather.

In fact, the building exceeds the 160-foot limit imposed by the FAA by 20 feet. But the FAA doesn't have any enforcement power.  That power falls on the city of San Diego. and it was San Diego city officials who allowed Sunroad to construct the building at its current height, a point that the developer's lawyer Steven Straus emphasized repeatedly today.

Steven Strauss , Sunroad Attorney : In terms of Sunroad being defiant, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it's to the contrary. Sunroad asked the city before it started construction if there were any building height limitations here, they were told no. They asked  if this property was in the airport overlay zone, they were told no and in fact it's not. The very same day that they had to submit notice fo construction to the FAA, they did that.

That original approval by city officials has San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre worried.

Mike Aguirre : If there's an accident here, then the actions on the part of the city could, if we do not correct the situation result in possible liability. It's also been brought to my attention...from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Aguirre has filed a lawsuit against the developer. He wants a judge to order Sunroad to lower the building's height. The aircraft owners and pilots' association and Caltrans are also a part of the suit. Aguirre accused Sunroad of deliberately flouting the process.

Aguirre : Obviously, there was some thought  that if they put up the building, ignored the law, they could get away with it and could try to convert this problem into one of paying a fine, paying for a violation with still having achieved the objective.

Aguirre has called on the U.S. Attorney's office to open up a probe into Sunroad's behavior and the city's handling of the matter. Sunroad attorney Strauss, who maintains the building is safe, labeled Aguirre's move absurd.

Strauss : To throw out the threat of criminal prosecution. What does that accomplish? What's the point in that? Just to increase the hysteria? Those claims are outrageous and they have no substance. And Sunroad certainly has no concern at all about any potential criminal investigation or indictment for its conduct on this project.

The city did order Sunroad to stop work on the two top floors of the building in October. But in December it allowed the developer to construct a roof to protect the structure from rain. That decision has triggered criticism by the state Department of Transportation which has said  the city's reluctance to take the necessary steps to protect its citizenry is a mystery.