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Huntington Beach to appeal court ruling on Wintersburg actions

Huntington Beach plans to appeal a recent Orange County Superior Court ruling that the city violated state regulations regarding a rezoning of the Historic Wintersburg site.

A judge ruled that the city violated California Environmental Quality Act regulations on June 1 when City Council members did not immediately rescind a rezoning of the land from residential use to commercial and industrial, even as they were decertifying an environmental impact report that had allowed the rezoning. The report also would have allowed the buildings on the Wintersburg property to be demolished.

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City Atty. Michael Gates said his office on Tuesday filed a notice to appeal.

The council approved the report and rezoning in November 2013. But this spring it voted to decertify the report on request of Rainbow Environmental Services, which owns Wintersburg, a 4.4-acre parcel at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane that is the former site of the first Japanese Presbyterian church in Orange County.

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On June 2, the Ocean View School District won a lawsuit that it filed against Huntington Beach in December 2013, claiming that the environmental report did not justify the rezoning. Superior Court Judge Gail Andler ordered the city to quickly rescind the zoning change.

Huntington Beach was given until July 22 to zone Wintersburg back to residential, and on that date, the City Council voted to make the change.

However, the city is appealing because it does not believe it violated the law and because officials believe they should not have been rushed to reverse the 2013 zoning change since they already were in the process of doing so when Andler issued her order.

"In light of the court's ruling and under the circumstances, an appeal is justified," Gates said Thursday.

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Gates said he could not elaborate further until the court documents are filed.

Wintersburg's zoning will remain residential, Gates said.

Ocean View board President Gina Clayton-Tarvin said Thursday that she is not happy that the city is appealing the ruling and believes that the city wants commercial and industrial use on the site.

"I predicted that they would lose on June 2 and I predict that they will lose the appeal," she said. "I'm highly disappointed in the city that they would want to allow industrial and commercial uses on a property that sits literally 10 feet from the school building and right next to our property."

Mary Urashima, chairwoman of the Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force, said that she and other preservationists will continue their efforts to protect the site.

"It has already been recognized nationally as a rare and significant place in American history," she said. "We hope the city and all the stakeholders will continue to work with us on that effort."

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