WENATCHEE — Soon the Apple Capital of the World will have just 35 acres of orchard left.
Three separate landowners have removed their orchards within the last few weeks and the largest remaining orchard, a property near Lincoln Park owned by the Wenatchee School District, will be torn out in about a month.
Those four orchards represented about 65 acres of trees. Without them, there will be about 35 acres of commercial orchard left in the city limits of Wenatchee, according to a Wenatchee World analysis of property records and satellite imagery.
There are still many orchards in the area just outside city limits and near East Wenatchee, but Wenatchee's core has lost more than a dozen orchards since 2000. There are now seven left in the city limits, most just a few acres.
Several orchardists have said their trees are aging and it doesn’t make fiscal sense to replant when housing prices are high and the land could be developed with houses or apartments.
One of the largest orchard holdouts was a 20-acre Phillippi Fruit orchard on Fifth Street west of Western Avenue.
That one was torn out last week. It’s not known what the company plans to do with the property. A Phillippi representative declined to comment when reached Monday.
A 1.5-acre orchard on Walla Walla Avenue next to the old Goodfellow Bros. headquarters was also removed recently. There aren’t any immediate plans for the land, said Steve Jiran of Pacific Rim Land Inc., which owns the property.
“It really hasn’t been a profitable orchard for some period of time,” he said. “It’s just been, for lack of a better term, managed for a long time.”
That’s the same reason the Wenatchee School District plans to remove 34 acres of trees from a property next to Lincoln Park, said district operations and maintenance director Greg Thompson.
“It’s gotten too old and we can’t find anyone to take it over,” he said. The district will likely keep the land as a future school site. It’s expected to cost $110,000 to remove the orchard.
Bart Clennon, who’s managed orchards and developed land in Wenatchee for decades, is turning one of his orchards into a housing development.
The 12-acre plot at the end of Springwater Avenue was cleared of pear trees last week.
“It was an older orchard. The reason we took them out is because they just weren’t producing enough to make sense,” he said.
He’s working with the city to finalize the development plans but estimates there will be 65 homes there.
“What we’d really like everyone to understand is we went at this in a way that 25 or 50 years from now we’ll be able to look back at these 65 lots and say, ‘That’s a great part of town. It really added something and it’s not just another 65 squares,’” he said.
Clennon plans to have alleys, open spaces, maybe a pool, and various home designs, he said.
His development is across the canal from another former orchard that’s now a construction zone for 37 lots in what’s being called the Pine Shadow development. Developer Sage Homes bought 10 of those lots and hopes to have them open by November, said real estate agent Rebecca Hacksworth.
For Clennon, the idea that some people may be apprehensive about the city’s changing landscape is understandable, he said.
“Growth is natural and I think that’s something that we have to accept,” he said. “It’s difficult in some ways to see your town change, but I think long term we have to have meaningful growth and it’s only logical that the orchards would be the first to develop.”
The economic development efforts from the city, Port of Chelan County and Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce are making the area a better place to live, he said, but population growth is tied to that.
“I think we’re going to get a vibrant downtown and a place we like living in, but it’s going to take growth,” he said. “It’s hard for some people, especially when you’re living next to an orchard you’ve had forever. It’s hard to accept that houses are going to be there, but that’s the reality."