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Santa Ana puts the brakes on a plan to build homes on orange grove

The City Council gives the five-acre site a historic designation, which requires city officials to study alternatives to the housing development.

June 08, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Santa Ana residents Luz Eulloqui and her children Javier, 10, left, and Natalie, 5, pass the Sexlinger orange grove, which is slated to be developed with 24 homes. A historic designation by the city slows down the project.
Santa Ana residents Luz Eulloqui and her children Javier, 10, left, and… (Christina House / For the…)

A developer's plan to plow under one of the last sizable orange groves in namesake Orange County has been slowed by a decision to place a historic designation on the five-acre orchard.

The designation will trigger an eight-month delay once a developer applies for a demolition permit. Preservationists will now have more time to raise money to buy the land, which includes an early20th century Craftsman bungalow among the trees.

The orange grove is in northeastern Santa Ana and has been fenced off for years, and the trees are untended.

The historic designation, which was approved by the City Council this week, requires city officials to analyze alternatives to uprooting the trees, said Jay Trevino, executive director of the city's Planning and Building Agency.

The council vote reverses the city's Historic Resources Commission denial of the historic designation in April.

The decision marks a victory for the Save Our Orchard Coalition, which has worked to block the development of the orchard since early 2011, when the group learned the land was slated to be cleared to make way for 24 homes.

Purchased by the Sexlinger family in 1913 and dotted with about 230 trees, the land is reminiscent of a lost way of life in Orange County, one that should be preserved, the coalition says.

After Martha D. Sexlinger died in 2006, the orchard was given to Concordia University in Irvine and Orange Lutheran High School, which are working with a real estate development company to build on the land.

Scott Allen, the president of Tava Development Co., said the company is open to selling the land to the coalition. He estimated the property is worth millions of dollars but didn't give an exact figure.

If the coalition is able to purchase the orchard, it would like to use it to educate the community about agriculture, and to provide a glimpse into the county's roots, said Jeannie Gillett, a coordinator for the group.

"You can't do that if it's destroyed," Gillett said. "I don't know where else you could put an orchard."

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