Developer cuts deal to preserve historic orange grove in Redlands

MLC Holdings to build 300 homes on another 60-acre grove in Inland Empire

Meritage Homes' Phillippe Lord 301 W. Palm Avenue (Meritage Homes, Redfin, City of Redlands)
Meritage Homes' Phillippe Lord 301 W. Palm Avenue (Meritage Homes, Redfin, City of Redlands)

A developer has agreed to save a 6-acre historic orange grove in Redlands and cut down another citrus stand to build more than 300 homes, according to a legal settlement.

MLC Holdings, a subsidiary of homebuilder Scottsdale-based Meritage Homes, has agreed to buy the 131-year-old England family grove from Diversified Pacific, which had planned to build 28 homes at 301 W. Palm Ave., the Redlands Daily Facts reported.

In exchange, a legal challenge to MLC’s Bergamot project – which calls for 317 homes on 58.6 acres of planted oranges and fields north of Domestic Avenue – would be dropped. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Redlands City Council had approved both projects in 2021 – and both became the center of lawsuits filed by groups of residents challenging the approvals and environmental documents.

While the city will be losing nearly 60 acres of prime farmland to the Bergamot project, and saving just 6 acres of the England grove, it was a good deal, said an attorney who helped negotiate the settlement agreement.

“In terms of historic, aesthetic, and other values, it’s a fair trade,” attorney John McClendon said. “It’s the greatest good for the greatest number–there’s so many people in the area who are going to enjoy this grove.”

McClendon, also the lawyer for a coalition of groups fighting the Bergamot project north of Citrus Valley High School, said he didn’t have all the details of the settlement, which was confidential. The England grove will be preserved by an unidentified nonprofit group.

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Neither MLC Holdings nor Diversified Pacific, based in Rancho Cucamonga, responded to requests for comment by the newspaper.

The California Department of Conservation had designated the Palm and Domestic avenue sites as prime farmland and asked that the Bergamot developer offer mitigation for the loss of agricultural land.

The Redlands Conservancy has said it had tried twice to buy the property before it was sold to the developer, but its offers were declined. Its main house, built in the 1890s by the England family, was among the first in Redlands with electricity.

The preservation group, which envisioned using the property as a working museum, had called it an “amazing example of grove house and grove … a large and solid late 1890s house with carriage house and citrus groves, still irrigated by the original irrigation system.”

In a separate development, another legacy orange grove surrounded by the City of Redlands could soon be replaced by a 462,000-square-foot warehouse.

[Redlands Daily Facts] – Dana Bartholomew

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