Developer Disputes Accusations His Company Is Neglecting Historic Grove’s Upkeep

With the Redlands City Council’s decision on Diversified Pacific’s proposal to develop most of the grove portion of the historic T.Y. England Estate into a new residential neighborhood, 352 current city residents have gone on record as signatories to a letter charging the development company with willfully allowing the trees in the grove to perish.
Jeff Burum, one of Diversified Pacific’s principals, rebuffed the accusation, and pointed out that the company is adhering to the preservationists’ insistence that the entire assets of the estate be maintained intact so the city’s options with the property are not limited. He said city water department records would verify that the grove is being irrigated.
Diversified Pacific, which is headed by Burum and Matt Jordan, in June 2019 acquired the entirety of the 8.8-acre England Grove Estate.
Thomas Y. England began cultivation of naval oranges on a lot at the corner of Palm and Alvarado avenues in Redlands in 1891, constructing on the property a Victorian Style home facing Palm Avenue, behind which he erected a barn, or carriage house, as well as a Queen Anne cottage facing Alvarado Street. The property was acquired by Guy Hunter, who converted the house on Palm Avenue into a prairie style home. The entire estate was sold to James and Annie Atwood in 1922. The Attwoods in turn passed it along to their daughter, Mary Attwood Heeney, and her husband Thomas J. Heeney, who continued to operate it as a citrus-producing grove. It was the Heeneys’ grandson and his wife who sold the estate to Diversified Pacific after they rejected, at various times over the past twenty years, offers by preservationists such as the Redlands Conservancy to purchase the property who had expressed the intent of restoring the estate’s structures and preserving the grove and its original gravity-fed irrigation system, one of the last three remaining such water conveyances in the state.
Burum, Jordan and Diversified Pacific have applied with the city to convert six of the England Grove Estate’s 8.8 acres into 28 2,000-to 2,600 square foot homes on what are mostly 6,200-square-foot lots.
The Redlands Planning Commission after considering the project at its May 11, 2021 and June 8, 2021 meetings, on June 22, 2021, voted 5-to-2, with Dr. Angela Keller and Matt Endsley dissenting, to recommend that the city council provide the project with a mitigated negative declaration allowing it to proceed, with a proviso that roughly 56 of the trees would be retained and a kiosk erected that recites the history of the England Estate and its significance to Redlands.
The project was scheduled to come before the Redlands City Council for consideration and approval at its July 20, 2021, September 7, 2021 and November 16, 2021 meetings. The property slated for development lies within one of the city’s ten sometimes overlapping historic zones, designated as the West Highland Avenue Historic and Scenic District. The council held hearings relating to the project at its July 20 and September 7 meetings, during which it heard from elements within the city who are opposed to the project’s destruction of the grove, which produced navel oranges marketed for decades under the Pure Gold label. At the conclusion of those meetings, the council held off on making a decision. The council canceled and postponed the hearing slated for November 16.
On November 15, the mayor and city council were provided with a letter signed by 352 Redlands residents which stated that the orange trees on the England Estate were suffering “death by neglect,” defined in the letter as “a refusal to adequately water the trees.” The letter stated that “neighbors bordering the grove have recorded that the last time the entire grove was watered by the owner was August 2020. Over the past months, the trees have begun to show distress at the lack of water provided. More trees than ever are losing leaves after drying up, more branches are falling, and the leaves are curling.”
The letter maintained, “We have been told by code enforcement [ i.e., a city employee or employees in the city’s code enforcement division] and a representative from Diversified Pacific that the irrigation system is broken and thus they are unable to water the grove. However, that is preposterous given the extraordinary monetary ability the developer has to fix the alleged break. This is death by neglect, and it breaks the agreement the developer made with neighbors that they ‘would make sure to keep the grove in the condition it was in when purchased.’ Further, it is code enforcement’s job to make sure that properties are adequately taken care of, especially if there is any potential risk or danger to properties not being maintained.”
According to the letter, “As it stands, after an extraordinarily hot and dry summer with temperatures often soaring past 100 degrees and almost no water afforded the trees, the grove is sitting tinder in our dry ‘Santa Anas’ climate. This poses a risk to all surrounding neighbors and their homes. It is the responsibility of code enforcement to actually respond to the requests for action received from residents. We have repeatedly been given excuses and ignored in what appears to be an appeasement to the developer.”
The letter goes on to intone, “The city is already named in a lawsuit about the loss of citrus, and if the suit is decided in the petitioner’s favor, it could impact the future liability of the city to ensure the developer maintains the groves until a final determination has been made about the future of the England property. It is therefore vital that the property owners be required to give the grove the best care possible. That includes watering, fertilizing, and keeping the weeds down in the furrows so that the water can reach all of the trees.”
Jeff Burum said the accusation that Diversified Pacific was not watering the trees was not true.
“If you check with the city, you will know that is not accurate,” he said. “We are using the existing antiquated and broken irrigation system to water the trees. The existing historical watering system is made up of concrete flumes which gravity flows water to the trees. We use it, but it is broken, inefficient and extremely wasteful in a drought challenged state. We use city water from our water shares. Our [water] usage can be verified by the city. People will say things that they know nothing about, especially if it leads to a selfish benefit, and that’s just sad.”
Burum said, “That grove has been dying for some time. It makes no sense to save an ancient water system that is no longer functioning and never functioned efficiently, especially in light of the drought and challenge to our state’s water availability.”
He, his partner and his company were being maligned, Burum said, by elements of the Redlands community which want the historical England Grove Estate fully restored at no cost to them or anyone who is advocating that outcome, which he said is financially unfeasible.
Burum remarked on the irony he perceived in that Diversified Pacific alone has stepped up with a strategy to keep those traces of Thomas Y. England’s legacy to Redlands intact.
In actuality, Burum said, prior to his company’s acquisition of the property there had been a protracted period while the Heeney Family, the owners of the land, had sought to make a sale of the estate to an entity or entities committed to its preservation, but could not come to terms with anyone.
“I would be willing to take no profit and sell the property at my cost to anyone willing to buy the property who wants to maintain it as an historical property and is capable of doing that,” Burum said. “The reality is that no one can do that. The only way for anyone to save the historical nature of the estate is to buy the property and use the surplus land to build something that can be marketed and sold so you can use the money to save the historical structures, the two houses and the barn. There is no one in the community that can do that.”
Burum said he and Diversified Pacific had “done the best that can be done with that property.” He expressed dismay at the vitriol he and his company are being subjected to by some in Redlands for having made that attempt. “We have spent millions of dollars because we believed in Redlands and making something worthwhile for the community,” he said, “We are not being treated nicely.”
Mark Gutglueck

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