Residents In Redlands Sue To Prevent Conversion Of England Grove To 28 Homes

A month after the Redlands City Council gave developer Jeff Burum and his company permission to proceed with the construction of a housing tract on the grounds of the historic England/Atwood/Heeney Estate, a cross section of the city’s residents has filed suit to prevent the project from proceeding.
Burum and his partner, Matt Jordan, used a limited liability subdivision of Burum’s company, Diversified Pacific, to pursue the project. That entity, Redlands Palm Investment, LLC, sought and obtained the approvals and entitlements needed to carry out a 28-home planned development on the historic orange grove property located at the southeast corner of West Palm Avenue and Alvarado Street.
In 1891, Thomas Y. England planted that grove, consisting of naval orange trees. The grove involved a gravity-fed irrigation system, and in 1893 England set within the grove a home in the Victorian style, which included a carriage house immediately behind it. England had also established on a portion of the property facing Alvarado Avenue a Queen Anne cottage. In 1914 the Victorian home at 301 West Palm Avenue was altered by a subsequent owner, Guy Hunter, into a prairie style home.
The England Estate containing all of its historic and still-functioning assets was sold by the Hunter Family to James and Annie Attwood 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.
The grove, its appurtenances, the estate and its structures have remained intact, though dilapidating, until the present, even as the lion’s share of Redlands’ once ubiquitous citrus groves, beginning in the 1950s and then over the next six decades were steadily eradicated and replaced primarily with residential development.
In Redlands, more than in most other areas of the Inland Empire, an effort to preserve the vestiges of the city’s agricultural history has taken root, such that the city has ten sometimes overlapping historic zones. The Redlands Conservancy exists as an independent endowment dedicated to historical preservation in the community. Meanwhile, in 1986, Redlands voters passed Measure O, which approved a bond to pay for purchasing and thereafter dedicating for preservation historic citrus groves in the city.
More than a decade ago, Thomas Heeney’s grandson Christopher Brumett along with his wife Jacquelyn signaled their willingness to sell the 8.8-acre  England Estate including its grove property. The City of Redlands, with its available grove-preservation bond money, and the Redlands Conservancy, showed interest. The Redlands Conservancy offered $3 million for the property. The Brumetts turned that offer down, saying they wanted roughly twice that amount. Another offer, this one for $4 million, was tendered by preservationists. Again, the Brumetts balked at that offer.
Thereafter, Burum and Jordan approached the Brumetts with their own offer. In June 2019, the Brumetts accepted Diversified Pacific’s $2.35 million bid for the 8.8 acres. Burum, Jordan and Diversified Pacific applied with the city to convert six of the England Grove Estate’s 8.8 acres into 32 2,000-to 2,600 square foot homes on what were mostly 6,200-square-foot lots. The approved number of residences was reduced, ultimately, from 32 to 28.
It was Burum’s contention 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.”
The city began to consider the project proposal in earnest in 2020, allowing Redlands Palm Investment, LLC, to prepare a mitigated negative declaration for the project rather than insisting upon a much more exhaustive environmental impact report on the proposal to give the project its environmental certification. On October 1, October 15, and December 17 of 2020, and then on March 4, 2021 the Redlands Historic and Scenic Preservation Commission reviewed and discussed the initial study the city had completed as part of the proposed mitigated negative declaration. Ultimately, the historic and scenic preservation commission adopted a resolution at its March 4, 2021 meeting documenting its findings that the proposed mitigated negative declaration and cultural resources report did not adequately identify and address the potential impacts to cultural and historic resources, while recommending that a full environmental impact report be prepared for the project to comprehensively identify and analyze any potentially significant impacts.
The Redlands Planning Commission took up consideration of the project at its May 11, 2021 and June 8, 2021 meetings, during which its various members expressed misgivings and reservations about what were in the end deemed by five of its members to be minor issues. The commission, prior to a final vote on the matter, consented to appointing commissioners Karah Shaw and Steve Frasher to a subcommittee, which was to make a more in-depth examination of the project. After considering the input of the Frasher/Shaw subcommittee, on June 22, 2021, the commission 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 with a proviso that roughly 56 of the trees be retained and a kiosk erected that would recite the history of the England Estate and its significance to Redlands.
The city council convened on July 20, 2021 to consider the project, but not before a number of Redlands residents formed a group tentatively calling itself Save The Grove, which retained attorney John McClendon to represent it. The council balked at adopting the mitigated negative declaration at the July 20 meeting after McClendon cited what he said were multiple shortcomings in the fashion in which the environmental certification for the project was being conducted. McClendon maintained inadequate consideration was being given to the cultural and historical elements of the estate, which the city was obliged to see preserved. The council again deferred action on the project at its September 6, 2021 meeting, at which receiving and accepting a socioeconomic cost/benefit study prepared for the proposed project as well as approving both a tentative parcel map for the project and a conditional use permit for the project were slated. Instead, in apparent deference to issues McClendon had raised, the council, while stopping short of undertaking a full-blown environmental impact report, complied with Development Services Director Brian Desatnik’s recommendation that the study for the mitigated negative declaration be recirculated once more, with the intent of bringing the matter back for reconsideration in November. That action was endorsed by Paige H. Gosney, an attorney representing Diversified Pacific.
On the agenda for the city council’s November 16 meeting, the socioeconomic cost/benefit study, the tentative parcel map, the conditional use permit, a tentative tract map and variances for the project were scheduled for discussion, while no mention of the mitigated negative declaration was made. After McClendon pointed that omission out to the city, Mayor Paul Barich directed that the council not conduct the hearing on the issue, postponing the matter. The project was rescheduled for consideration at its December 7 meeting, with the posted agenda for the meeting properly listing the mitigated negative declaration among the actions the council had the option of approving. Noticing to residents living in proximity to the project site, however, failed to include reference to the mitigated negative declaration. The council on December 7 gave unanimous approval to the project.
McClendon, on behalf of the collection of city residents which have now officially adopted the identifying moniker Save The Redlands Orange Groves, filed a petition for a writ of mandate, with the city as the respondent and Redlands Palm Investment, LLC as the real party in interest, challenging the city’s approval of Redlands Palm Investment LLC’s project.
“Petitioner contends that respondent’s preparation and approval of a mitigated negative declaration for the project, and its approval by the city’s elected city council, violate specific provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act and the guidelines for implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act,” the petition states. “Petitioner is challenging the project because (among other things) it is a project that may result in significant impacts on the environment that have not been adequately assessed or mitigated.”
According to McClendon, the city and the city council “ignored fair arguments supported by expert opinion and substantial evidence that the development and operation of the project upon the property would cause significant unmitigated impacts on the environment. In refusing to prepare and certify a legally adequate environmental impact report that fully disclosed and analyzed all of the potential impacts that will result from the project, refusing to consider feasible and environmentally superior alternatives to the project, and failing to make all mitigation measures fully enforceable, respondent has disregarded or treated as a mere formality the specific and substantive requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.”
McClendon further asserted that the city’s “approval of the project violates California’s Planning and Zoning Law (Gov. Code §§ 65000, et sequitur) as well as the city’s own laws because the project is inconsistent with the city’s general plan and a voter-enacted initiative known as ‘Measure U.’”
Measure U was an initiative approved by Redlands voters in 1997 to enact several principles of managed development within the City of Redlands. Measure U required that developers defray the cost of any public infrastructure that had to be built to accommodate their projects. Measure U also called for the preservation of agricultural and citrus production in the city.
The petition for a writ of mandate calls upon the court to “vacate and set aside respondent’s approval of the project and the mitigated negative declaration.”
The most preoccupying of the elements of the petition is McClendon’s contention that neither Diversified Pacific nor any other entity should be permitted to develop the England Estate property because of restrictions set out in Measure U calling for the property to be preserved as functioning agricultural land.
McClendon cited a portion of Measure U stating that “No land undeveloped as of March 1, 1997 and designated in whole or in part as ‘urban reserve’ or ‘urban reserve (agricultural)’ in the Redlands General Plan in effect as of June 1, 1987, and/or any land parcel that was in active agricultural production on November 3, 1986 regardless of zoning, shall be re-designated or rezoned to permit residential density greater than the estate residential (R-E) classification, as the same existed on June 1, 1987, in the Redlands City Zoning Ordinance, unless mandatory findings are made and the re-designation or rezoning is approved by four-fifths vote of the total authorized membership of the city council.” Those mandatory findings extended to a certification that “overriding economic or social benefits to the city and its residents and taxpayers from the proposed density increase, [that] the proposed density increase will not cause adverse environmental impacts, [that] the proposed density increase will not convert viable agricultural land to non-agricultural uses, [that] the proposed density increase will not have a growth-inducing effect on other property, [that] the resulting use will be compatible with uses on adjacent land [and that] the proposed density increase will not require substantial expansion of public infrastructure, facilities or services.”
The council made no such findings in approving the project, McClendon propounded.
The petition states, “The property is one of the city’s most unique historical treasures. Known as the England Estate, its original (1893) main house, Queen Anne cottage, carriage house and barn make it one of the last examples of a fully intact grove estate in the city. Among the many things making the property and its cultural context so remarkably unique are its original hand-cut stone walls and its nearly 700 heritage orange trees, planted between 1891 and 1893 on prime farmland that are still productive and watered by the last remaining example of a 19th Century gravity-fed irrigation system in the city.”
According to McClendon, “the city violated the due process rights of property owners surrounding the property” when it failed to give them notice prior to the December 7, 2021 meeting at which the project was approved that the council was to consider a mitigated negative declaration for the project.
Further, McClendon maintains, “Respondent further did not proceed in the manner required by law in that it caused a mitigated negative declaration to be produced that was biased in favor of the proposed project’s approval and, therefore, failed to constitute the full disclosure document intended to objectively inform decision-makers and the public of the project’s true impacts, mitigation measures, and alternatives.”
Repeated efforts by the Sentinel to reach Burum as well as two attorneys representing Diversified Pacific, Mark Ostoich and Paige Gosney, were not successful prior to press time this week.
Previously, Burum told the Sentinel that the Redlands Palm project, which will keep the 1893 England home, its accompanying carriage house/barn and the Queen Anne cottage intact, is a “quality historical preservation.” He said efforts to save the grove and its watering system were not worth pursuing. The grove he said, as a cultural and historic asset, was “not something that was so overwhelming that it had to remain. 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.”
The night of December 7, when the project was approved by the city council, then-Councilman Paul Foster, who voted with his colleagues to approve the project, said of those members of the community who compose Save Redlands Orange Groves, “Many of those of you that are upset about this project are living in homes that are sitting on property that was the original grove. So, for you to come and say that this private property owner shouldn’t be able to move forward with his project is really quite disingenuous. You have your piece of Redlands so nobody else should have it? That’s simply not right. That’s just not fair.”
Foster has left the council, and has relocated to Camano Island in Possession Sound, a section of Puget Sound in Washington State.
The staff report for the action taken by the city council in approving the project on December 7was prepared by Senior Planner Sean Reilly, submitted by Development Services Director Brian Desatnik, reviewed by City Attorney Daniel J. McHugh, Assistant City Manager Janice McConnell and Management Services/Finance Director Danielle Garcia and recommended by City Manager Charles Duggan. In the report, Sean Reilly stated “the project’s impacts remain less than significant with the incorporation of mitigation measures.”
Reilly told the city council on December 7, “The mitigated negative declaration contains a total of nine mitigation measures that have been recommended to reduce potential impacts associated with biological resources, cultural resources, geology & soils, noise and tribal cultural resources.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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