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Costa Mesa council to review proposed revisions to small-lot ordinance

After months in the works, proposed tweaks to Costa Mesa’s much-debated small-lot ordinance will finally go to the City Council for review Tuesday.

The revisions up for consideration — which were recommended by the city’s Planning Commission in May — include setting a new minimum lot size for small-lot projects at 7,260 square feet, requiring greater distance between buildings and increasing the overall open space needed.

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Commissioners also recommended establishing additional standards pertaining to driveway and lot width on certain properties — specifically those that are accessible via an alley and “flag lots” with long driveways.

Originally adopted in 2014, the small-lot ordinance was designed to ease development standards for proposals of 15 or fewer detached homes in areas zoned for multifamily units.

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However, the ordinance has been a point of contention for years. Critics say it has allowed overly dense and haphazard building — harming local neighborhood character and creating traffic and parking problems in the process — while supporters say the ordinance gives property owners the flexibility to redevelop or renovate their land and potentially create needed new housing.

Council members have the option of approving the Planning Commission’s recommendations, or making other revisions as they deem appropriate.

Tuesday’s council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 77 Fair Drive.

Needle exchange

Also on Tuesday, council members will decide whether to extend an urgency ordinance prohibiting the establishment and operation of needle-exchange programs in the city for another 10 months and 15 days.

According to a staff report, “This temporary restriction will provide time for the city to study these issues and for the City Council to enact long-term policies and regulations.”

The moratorium — originally approved Aug. 7 for a 45-day period — was adopted in response to the California Department of Public Health’s decision to greenlight a proposal from the Orange County Needle Exchange Program to distribute syringes and other supplies in parts of Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana for the next two years.

In Costa Mesa, the program would run on West 17th Street between Whittier Avenue and the city boundary with Banning Ranch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays.

Advocates of such programs say they are intended to help prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C by providing clean needles and supplies to intravenous drug users.

However, opponents — including Costa Mesa and Newport Beach city leaders and law enforcement — have raised public safety and health concerns and said the proposed operating area is inappropriate given its proximity to homes, businesses and schools.

The City Council also voted in early August to join a lawsuit seeking to stop the program.

Fairview Park trains

An agreement that would allow residents to continue riding the rails in Fairview Park for the foreseeable future also is up for council review.

The proposed contract extension would allow the Orange County Model Engineers to continue operating their trains at the park for at least the next 20 years — with two, five-year extension options beyond that.

Under their long-standing agreement with the city, first entered into in 1988, the Model Engineers operate a 7.5-inch gauge railroad with more than 5 miles of track on the eastern side of the park — as well as a maintenance yard, gift shop and restroom. The nonprofit club also provides free public train rides on the third weekend of every month.

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