Friday, January 23, 2015

How condominiums lost out to Nixon library

Residential density – the number of single-family homes and condominium and apartment units allowed per acre – is the longest-running thread in Yorba Linda's political history, and 2015 will see more key decision-making on a matter that remains a hot-button topic.

More development on parcels voter-approved in 2012 for higher densities, new homes on adjacent land under county control and a second revision of an original 1971 General Plan that cemented the city's low-density identity will contend for City Council attention this year.

These density deliberations are likely to again fill the council chambers with large numbers of residents with differing views on an issue often called “the electrified third rail” of local politics.

Interestingly, this year marks the 30th anniversary of density decisions for the site now home to the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, a topic for my recent Yorba Linda Historical Society presentation based on oral histories, council minutes and back issues of the Yorba Linda Star.

The issue drew large audiences to council meetings in 1985, which led to decisions effectively precluding condominium development on property the city later donated for construction of the Nixon library.

Richard Nixon's father, Frank, purchased the nine-acre property on the northeast corner of the Eureka Avenue-Yorba Linda Boulevard intersection in 1912, and sold the land after moving his family to Whittier in 1922, seeking better prospects than those provided by his lemon grove.

Flush with the $50,000 proceeds from a bond issue passed by a 5-1 margin in 1925, the Yorba Linda School District bought 5 ½ acres of the property from William Atkinson for $10,500 and built a K-8 school for $51,801. The district added the remaining acreage in 1948 for $15,500.

Safety questions lingered after the 1933 earthquake, and the district eventually razed the school in 1954 and constructed a new facility to be named after native son Richard Nixon.
That school closed in 1981 and the site put up for sale.

Four years later, a prospective buyer, Harold Lynch, offered $1.2 million, if the land could be rezoned to high-density residential, allowing him to build 61 condominium units on 6.1 acres.

A small land buffer would separate the condos from 1.1 acres with the home the Nixon Birthplace Foundation, formed by residents in 1968, had bought from the district for $125,000 in 1977.

City staff recommended approval of 10 units per acre, but the planning commission agreed to 6.7. Both were non-starters for the council, which discussed 3 units per acre before approving 4 units on a 4-1 vote.

With just 24 condo units possible, Lynch lowered his offer to $650,000, which the school district termed “totally unacceptable.” The city paid the district $1.3 million for the land in 1988 and agreed to remove the school and grade the site.

The Nixon Library Foundation built the facility, restored the home and opened in 1990.