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Santa Ana decides to clear out old homes over objections

November 4, 2009

610E5thStreetFrom Orange County Register – More than a dozen old homes have a date with a wrecking crew – over the objections of historic preservationists – as the city clears the way for an ambitious redevelopment project near downtown.

Those preservationists have argued that the homes have real historic value and should be spared the bulldozer – and maybe refurbished as shops or restaurants. But the City Council has voted 7-0 to move forward with plans to demolish most of the homes by the end of the year.

The city has big plans for the land where the homes now stand. It has been working with a development team to draw up a project of new homes, new storefronts and new opportunity in the area just east of downtown. It calls that vision the Station District.

The city owns 18 homes inside the proposed Station District, the last standing remnants of its multimillion-dollar effort to buy up land there for redevelopment. The oldest of those homes dates to before the turn of the last century, according to the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society.

But all of them would need serious work to bring them back to what they once were. Many have been renovated and rebuilt so much over the years that their original owners would hardly recognize them. And only one has ever been recognized as a bona fide historic resource on the city’s official registry.

The city plans to move that one – a stately old Victorian – and two others, rather than knock them down. It estimates that it will cost as much as $50,000 each to move the homes and $500,000 or more each to fix them up – a cost that either the city itself or a private buyer will have to cover.

Preservationists – joined by some residents and business owners from the Station District neighborhood – urged the council to postpone a decision on the other homes at least until it has a development plan in place. They said the old buildings could be refurbished as homes or as businesses – a “seed for redevelopment,” as Jeff Dickman, a member of the Historical Preservation Society, put it.

But council members have said the city can’t justify spending the kind of money it would take to preserve the worn-out homes in a time of budget cuts and layoffs. Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez called the pending demolition of the homes the “growing pains of progress” and said: “Sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice some things to become a better city.”

The council’s vote on Monday night started the final clock running for the homes. Under the $108,445 contract it approved, demolition company Vizion’s West, Inc., has to begin work within 30 days and clear the homes by the end of the year.

By Doug Irving
Orange County Register

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