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City vote allows demolition at Wintersburg site

Preservationists have a year and a half to save prewar buildings at the site.

November 06, 2013|By Anthony Clark Carpio

Supporters of the Wintersburg site in Huntington Beach will have 18 months to figure out how to preserve its historical structures.

The deadline comes with the City Council's decision Monday to approve on a 4-3 vote the much-debated environmental impact report allowing demolition at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane.

With the vote, Rainbow Environmental Services, which owns the site, has the green light to start demolition, but the local company must wait 18 months to let preservationists save the six buildings on site that were part of the first Japanese Presbyterian Church in Orange County.

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The waste management company initially proposed a one-year window, but council members and Rainbow's executive director, Jerry Moffatt, agreed to extend the period an additional six months.

The council's vote also started the process of rezoning the property to a mixed use, a designation needed for Rainbow to move forward with any development.

Mayor Connie Boardman, Councilwoman Jill Hardy and Councilman Joe Shaw dissented.

The Ocean View School District appealed the environmental impact report, which was heavily discussed during a Planning Commission meeting in August.

The school district and others, including commission Chairman Mark Bixby, believe the report was flawed because of Rainbow's piecemeal approach to the project.

"It's rather disingenuous for staff and the applicant and the applicant's employees to assert that there is no subsequent project," Bixby said during public comments. He was one of about 50 to speak up on the issue.

He added that if Rainbow had provided an overall view of the project rather than snippets, identifying the costs to restore the historic buildings would be easier and could possibly ensure their survival through various methods, such as relocation or adaptive reuse — which maintains the aesthetics of the structure but uses them for a new purpose.

Bixby said the waste management company is deliberately inching forward to pave a path for itself, theoretically making it easier for the company to plan a project in the future. And with City Council approving the rezoning, it eliminates the option of keeping the structures on site.

Mary Urashima, chairwoman of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, said the significance of the Furuta buildings — two family houses, a barn, two churches and a manse — would be greater if they remained on location.

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