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Costa Mesa council approves changes to small-lot ordinance, rejecting calls for repeal

Almost a year of discussion and planning came to a head Tuesday night when the Costa Mesa City Council approved a set of changes to the city’s controversial small-lot ordinance.

Despite calls from some residents for more-comprehensive changes or an outright repeal, the council largely adopted earlier recommendations from the city Planning Commission, including requiring greater distance between buildings constructed under the ordinance, increasing the overall open space needed and prohibiting applying small-lot standards in conjunction with other urban plan standards.

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However, as part of the 4-1 vote — with Councilman John Stephens opposed — the council decided against the commission’s suggestion to raise the minimum lot size for “small lot” projects from 6,000 to 7,260 square feet and created a new provision to allow up to 5% of the required open space to be used for independently accessible guest parking.

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

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Proponents said the goal was to give property owners the flexibility to redevelop or renovate their land and potentially add new units to the city’s housing stock, creating additional opportunities for homeownership.

But the ordinance has long been the target of critics who have hammered it for allowing what they consider to be overly dense and haphazard building that has harmed the character of local neighborhoods and caused traffic and parking headaches.

Stephens — invoking the image of an Etch A Sketch — said he was inclined to wipe away the ordinance and start over.

“Let’s just repeal it now and take it up in 2019 and look at it again,” he said.

Councilman Jim Righeimer, on the other hand, called the ordinance “a great thing for people to get homeownership” and called the controversy surrounding it more an issue of politics than planning.

“It makes a big difference to the people that own that property; it doesn’t make a big difference to the city,” he said. “It’s a political issue.”

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