Rafu Staff Report
HUNTINGTON BEACH — The Huntington Beach Planning Commission on Aug. 13 voted 4-3 to certify an environmental impact report (EIR) for the Historic Wintersburg site, also known as the Warner-Nichols property, but voted 4-3 against a “statement of overriding considerations” (SOC), which means the historic buildings on the site won’t be demolished for now.
At issue is the preservation of buildings such as the Furuta family farm and Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church, which represent the thriving Japanese American community in Orange County from the late 19th century to the outbreak of World War II.
The owner of the 4.4-acre property, Rainbow Environmental Services, says that the buildings, which have been empty for years, are a blight and a magnet for crime as well as an obstacle to development. Since rehabilitation/repurposing of the buildings on-site is not feasible, according to the EIR, Rainbow wants permission to tear them down if they cannot be relocated.
Funds for the relocation and rehabilitation of the buildings would have to be raised privately, as the city would not be involved.
To facilitate development, the commission voted 5-2 to approve a General Plan amendment and rezone the property to commercial/industrial.
Rainbow is appealing the decision on the SOC to the Huntington Beach City Council.
Speakers at the commission meeting, which ran more than three hours, included representatives of Rainbow, who said the livelihood of the employees depends on developing the property, and members of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force along with other concerned members of the Japanese American community.
“I would like to consider it a victory in terms of the action taken to prevent demolition,” said Mary Urashima, chair of the task force. “I remain concerned about the certification of a flawed EIR and I remain concerned about the understanding of the very significant historical value of this site and the uniqueness of this site … I think this is such an important site not just for Huntington Beach but for California, and really for the West. It tells such a unique story and a history that has been neglected.”
As the task force waits to hear what the City Council will do, “we will continue … Historic Wintersburg is worth it,” Urashima said.
(A more detailed report will be published next week.)