Spooked By Lawyer, Redlands City Council Balks At Rubberstamping Subdivision

Forced by an environmental rights attorney to take stock of what were alleged to be shortcomings in the environmental certification documents prepared for the proposed conversion of the England Grove Estate’s 130-year-old orange orchard into 28 homes, the Redlands City Council this week held off on giving the project go-ahead.
The England Grove Estate is located at the southeast corner of Palm Avenue and Alvarado Street in the southern portion of Redlands.
Jeff Burum and Matt Jordan of Rancho Cucamonga-based Diversified Pacific have proposed bulldozing roughly six of the England Grove Estate’s 8.8 acres to make way for a residential subdivision consisting of 2,000-square foot-to-2,600-square foot homes on what are mostly 6,200-square foot lots. Diversified Pacific would leave intact the home on the property facing Palm Avenue initially built by Thomas Y. England in 1893 in the Victorian Style and altered into a prairie style abode in 1914 by Guy Hunter, as well as the carriage house behind the England home and the England Queen Anne cottage built on another part of the property facing Alvarado Street.
Several nearby residents, other city residents and preservationists have taken exception to Diversified Pacific’s development proposal altogether, maintaining that the estate should be fully preserved, so that the structures on the property remain in the context of the citrus operation, which includes a grove of navel oranges and a gravity-fed irrigation system, the only remaining such facility in Redlands and among the last in the state.
Of note is that Diversified Pacific was able to purchase the property for $2.35 million in June 2019. Previously the Redlands Conservancy offered the property’s owners, Christopher and Jacquelyn Brumett, $3 million for the estate, which was rejected, as the couple expressed the belief the property would fetch twice that. The Brumetts then spurned another offer of $4 million from preservationists who said they were committed to protecting the entirety of the land from development.
For many of those who have gone on record as being opposed to the development project and the destruction of the grove, the fashion in which Diversified Pacific outmaneuvered the preservationists in being able to purchase the property for less money than they were willing to put up is an issue. Project opponents further object to the city permitting the environmental certification on the project to be done via a mitigated negative declaration, one of the least exacting types of environmental analyses used to deem a project as being in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
A group of Redlands residents, who banded together under the name Save The Grove, retained attorney John McClendon.
McClendon prepared a document presented to the council which put forth the assertion and marshaled support thereto that a mitigated negative declaration for the project would not stand a legal challenge and that under the California Environmental Quality Act the city was required to conduct a full environmental impact report to let the development take place. The city was in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act because it had not consulted with nor included other agencies in determining what type of environmental document to prepare, McClendon maintained, and he said the city should have touched base as well with those agencies during the preparation of the so-called initial study for the mitigated negative declaration, even if an environmental impact report was not completed.
Furthermore, McClendon maintained, disagreements among experts and analysts who had examined the development proposal with regard to environmental impacts necessitated that a comprehensive environmental report be compiled. To make a negative declaration of no significant impacts and bypass the requirement for a full environmental impact report, McClendon said, the city had to consult with all agencies in the state with responsibility pertaining to the issues at play in the development. He asserted that the city had failed to make such consultations. The documentation upon which the mitigated negative declaration was based, “was not sent to the state clearing house,” McClendon said. “It was not properly distributed.”
Advocates for Diversified Pacific maintain that the company is the owner of the property free and clear, and that the company’s property rights entitle it to proceed with the project on any terms it wants as long as it adheres to the city’s zoning and building codes.
Diversified Pacific’s architect, Peter Pitassi, emphasized that the company had made a diligent and sincere effort to plan for and to eventually create a residential subdivision that will enhance Redlands.
“We’ve gone to some significant effort to be as sensitive as we can be to the conditions around our property,” Pitassi asserted. “We think we have a project that will be very beneficial to the community and the neighborhood.”
The lawyer for Diversified Pacific, Mark Ostoich, said the mitigated negative declaration prepared for the project was based on available and substantial evidence, and constituted an adequate environmental certification of the project. He pointed out that Diversified Pacific had participated in the effort to preserve the two residences and the carriage house. The preservationists in Redlands should content themselves with what they are getting out of the project, Ostoich said.
“The cultural resources that are being lost [i.e., 90 percent of the the grove and the irrigation system and a wall around the grove] are less significant than the highly visible cultural resources that are being retained [the two homes and the carriage house],” Ostoich said.
The city council was scheduled on Tuesday, September 7 to consider the proposal and vote on whether to make the mitigated negative declaration and allow Diversified Pacific to proceed with the project. In deference to input from City Manager Chares Duggan and City Attorney Dan McHugh, who expressed a concern that McClendon would initiate a lawsuit against the city if the project were approved before an inventory of the historical resources the estate entails were not first sent to the state clearinghouse or repository for such data, the city council deferred taking up the consideration of the project, and postponed further consideration of the matter until the inventory of historic resources is properly lodged with the state.
-Mark Gutglueck

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