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‘It does need repairs, but to fix it up would be no problem.’ : A ‘Dream House’ With a Hitch

Times Staff Writer

When Mark and Sherri Clemens learned that their offer of $124,131 was tops among three bidders for an 82-year-old, two-story home on Shaffer Street in Orange, they were at once overjoyed and disillusioned.

The Clemenses were elated to discover an old home that needed only a little fixing in a historic section near downtown Orange--and at a price they admit is “quite a deal.”

Unfortunately, the old colonial-style house at 146 N. Shaffer St. also looks pretty good to the city, which wants to acquire the property to make way for an expansion of the main library.

Three Others Sought

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City officials also want to purchase three other buildings in the vicinity, one dating back to 1887, as they come up for sale.

Built in 1961, when Orange’s population was about 27,000, the main library is now bulging with books and card catalogues and is in dire need of more space and parking, according to a report from city library director Karen Leo.

“We’re approximately three times over the intended capacity,” she said, noting that the building is designed to house about 70,000 volumes and currently has about 233,000 on the shelves.

Using population studies that project Orange’s population will swell from 100,000 to 150,000 by the year 2000, Leo calculated that the building would need to more than triple in size, and also provide additional parking to serve city residents.

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But the Clemenses see things differently.

The Santa Ana couple made the top offer for the historic house when the Calvary Church of Santa Ana, which inherited the property, decided to put it up for sale last November. It appeared that the Clemenses’ three-year search for a home with historical significance had ended--but the dream suddenly turned sour. Last April, on the day the bids were opened, the Clemenses learned that the City of Orange had begun eminent-domain proceedings to acquire the property at fair market value.

Repairs ‘No Problem’

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful home,” said Mark Clemens, a Pacific Bell employee. “It does need painting and some minor repairs, but to fix it up would be no problem.” He has deposited $2,000 with the church that will be refunded if Orange decides to take the home and pay the church fair market value, or about $130,000.

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Bill Bucher, who handles business affairs for the church, said he spoke with the city in January about the home but didn’t get an offer until after the bids were received. The city’s bid was $6,000 more than the Clemenses’, he said, adding, “I would have loved to take that bid but I felt I had a moral obligation to the Clemenses by that time.”

Now, the issue has become a controversy in the Orange neighborhood that is dotted with old homes, some dating back to the 1880s. Soon after realizing that they were the top bidders, the Clemenses tried to organize downtown residents and win support.

Sherri Clemens used a home computer to print flyers and the couple went door-to-door attempting to get neighbors on their side. They managed to get about 100 signatures, and more than 50 people showed up at subsequent City Council meetings on the matter.

Dave Trousdale, a neighborhood resident who has sided with the Clemenses, said, “You don’t knock down Mount Vernon for a shopping center.”

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Trousdale, who purchased a 75-year-old home on Shaffer three years ago, also wrote a letter to the City Council, contending: “It is pointless to pursue city expansion in a unique, richly historic, proud and, unfortunately, totally unprotected neighborhood that, once gone, is gone forever.”

Action Postponed

At its most recent meeting last Tuesday, the council decided to postpone any action on the property until Sept. 24, to give city staffers time to re-examine the controversy, said City Manager William Little.

The study will focus on several options, he said, including moving the library to another location, moving the houses to another site that would become a historic park or even incorporating the sites into the library expansion itself.

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Although the expansion isn’t likely to occur for at least five years, Little said that Orange decided to pursue each house as it comes up for sale “rather than waiting five or 10 years until we have to act and then perhaps end up forcing a family out.”

But that isn’t a good enough reason for Clemens.

‘Wait 10 Years’

“Why don’t you (the city) let us alone and 10 years from now, if you’ve got a necessity, let us know?” he asked. “Just wait and then take the property if you must.”

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Little stressed that the city’s proposal would ensure that the homes aren’t destroyed, noting: “Whatever manner, shape or form this action takes, those houses will be preserved.”

The Clemenses, however, are determined to win the battle.


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