Planning Commission’s approval could lead to the demolition of Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church to make way for new development.
Huntington Beach officials will take a second look at approving a project that could mean the destruction of several historically-significant buildings, including the oldest Japanese American Presbyterian Church in Southern California.
Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will consider approving an environmental study, a zone change to industrial and commercial, and a General Plan amendment that would earmark the more than 4-acre Wintersburg site at Warner Avenue and Nicholas Lane for a potential commercial project.
Officials took up the issue in April but a decision was postponed after commissioners said they wanted further study on the site and a report on any potential safety issues it poses.
They are faced with a challenging dilemma – rescuing what some say is a significant part of Orange County’s history while being fair to property owner Rainbow Environmental Services, which bought the property for about $5 million in 2004 and has paid $432,000 in property taxes since, company officials said.
Rainbow bought the site after city and school officials expressed concerns about a developer that was looking to build 53-unit condominium project on the land.
The site, known to some as historic Wintersburg, contains the 1934 church on the corner with the “Jesus Lives” mural, a bungalow, family home, barn, a mission built in 1909 and a manse, which is where the clergy lived. There also is open space that once was filled with goldfish ponds and later, with water lilies and sweet peas.
All of the buildings except the family home, which was built in 1947, have been labeled historically significant for Huntington Beach, the staff report says.
City staff estimated it would cost about $2.4 million to restore the buildings and about $50,000 to demolish them.
“I hate to see this go,” Commissioner Erik Peterson said at the last meeting. “I am concerned about losing this bit of history in Huntington Beach.”
Huntington Beach resident Mary Urashima drew the city’s attention to the site more than a year ago when she launched a blog to tell the stories of the Furuta family that lived on the land and were integral figures in early Japanese American history in Orange County.
Those in support of saving Wintersburg said Huntington Beach has lost many of its local historical structures over the years, and destroying Wintersburg would be a significant loss of the city’s cultural resources. Four of the Wintersburg buildings have been listed as eligible for the National Register of Historical Places.
There are no plans to develop the site but company officials said if this first step is approved, they will work on what kind of project to bring back to the city for consideration.
Storing RVs and boats or constructing an administrative office were ideas discussed in the past. Developing a commercial property with retail space and a meeting place for nonprofits was also on the table years ago, company officials said.
Planning Commissioners meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at 2000 E. Main St.