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Judge's order would rezone Historic Wintersburg from commercial to residential

The day after the Huntington Beach City Council voted to kill an environmental impact report that could have allowed the buildings on the Historic Wintersburg site to be demolished, an Orange County judge told the city to void the zoning changes associated with the report.

At the request of Rainbow Environmental Services, which owns the 4.4 acres at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane, council members Monday voted 6-0 to decertify the EIR, since the city plans to rezone the land from commercial and light industrial to medium-density residential. Councilman Dave Sullivan was absent.

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The rezoning would reverse zoning amendments made in November 2013 that changed Wintersburg's status from residential.

But on Tuesday, the Ocean View School District won a lawsuit it filed against Huntington Beach in December 2013 claiming that the city had failed to draft an appropriate environmental report to justify the 2013 rezoning.

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Superior Court Judge Gail Andler ordered Huntington Beach to rescind the 2013 zoning amendments rather than go through a months-long process to revert the property to residential status, said Edmond Connor, an attorney representing the school district.

The city has until July 22 to rescind the amendments, Connor said.

"That's what we were doing anyway," City Atty. Michael Gates said Tuesday. "I don't see anything new from what the City Council told us to do."

The school district had feared that the EIR certified with the 2013 rezoning would allow Rainbow to demolish the buildings there. The district's lawsuit claimed the commercial zoning was incompatible with the area.

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Rainbow has said the company could not demolish the buildings after Wintersburg is rezoned to residential. "We are not going to [demolish] the properties," Rainbow spokeswoman Sue Gordon said last month.

Mary Urashima, chairwoman of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, said members of the Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that researches land use, will be at the site in coming weeks to study ways that the property and buildings can be preserved.

Preservationists have been working for years to keep the six buildings at Wintersburg, the former location of the first Japanese Presbyterian church in Orange County. Last June it was named one of the most endangered sites in the country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"We have brought in some of our country's premier experts on historic preservation and urban planning to discuss the Historic Wintersburg property," Urashima said.

She added that the nonprofit will be conducting interviews with the property owner, preservationists, nearby residents and city officials to try to determine what is best for the site.

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