Committee Will Try to Preserve Santa Ana Orchard

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The future of the Sexlinger Orchard in Santa Ana remains uncertain, but the Santa Ana Historic Resources Commission has become yet another branch in the storyline of one of the last remaining orange orchards in Orange County.

The commission last week heard public testimony and appointed commissioners to an ad hoc committee that will focus on the alternatives to demolition of this historic site.

The commission originally acceded to the wishes of the owners of the five-acre orchard — Concordia University and Orange Lutheran High School — and did not list the property or its 1913 craftsman-style home on the city’s registry of historic sites. The educational institutions, which were willed the property by Martha Sexlinger, want to sell it to home developers.

But the Santa Ana City Council overturned the commission’s decision at its June 4 meeting after hearing from supporters of the orchard, many from the group Save Our Orchard Coalition. Nonetheless, the owners sent a letter on June 12 to the city stating their intent to demolish the home and trees.

Since the orchard was placed on the registry, however, the commission is required to seek all possible alternatives to demolition. There is a mandated 240-day waiting period before demolition can begin.

That gives the coalition a chance to raise the money to buy the orchard and preserve it. The group wants to maintain the orchard and create a center for urban agriculture.

“There’s maybe some compromises. … They just want to monetize that asset,” commission Chairman Phillip Schaefer said.

The issues are the cost and whether the educational institutions will sell the land to the coalition. Members have been requesting to speak with representatives to discuss a price, which is estimated to by as high as $4 million.

“There’s got to be a price point,” Commissioner Alberta Christy said. Christy, along with Commissioners Patrick Yrarrazaval and Blair O’Callaghan, are the members of the ad hoc committee assigned to compile information about the orchard and document public comments over the eight-month waiting period.

Christy compared the prospect of preserving the orchard and creating an urban agricultural center to the victory gardens of the two world wars, which boosted morale and food production during tough times.

“Santa Ana is the genesis of Orange County. We’ve got to protect the past,” Christy said.

— LAUREN TYLER

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