Costa Mesa to consider changing small-lot ordinance and other development standards

Costa Mesa's small-lot ordinance and urban plans and overlay districts are set to go back under the microscope following a lengthy joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd in the administration building at the OC Fair & Event Center, council members and commissioners spent more than three hours discussing the issues and hearing feedback from the audience.


Because Tuesday's meeting was a study session, neither the council nor the commission took any votes on the items. As the meeting wound on, though, it became clear that most members believe some tweaks — if not wholesale changes — are needed.

"I think it's safe to say that some changes are coming," Councilman Allan Mansoor said. "The question is, what changes?"


Some residents lobbied for moratoriums temporarily halting projects processed under the small-lot ordinance — which eases standards for proposed developments of 15 or fewer detached homes in areas zoned for multifamily units — and the urban plans and overlay districts, which outline development standards in certain portions of the Westside and the Sobeca district around The Lab and The Camp shopping centers on Bristol Street.

"Hit the pause button while we rethink the ordinances and what's really appropriate for our city," resident Robin Leffler said.

Other residents urged outright repeal, waving small stop signs with "No overlays" and "No SLO" written on them.

The council in July discussed the possibility of a small-lot moratorium but decided to hold off.

Supporters of the ordinance and the overlays said they create flexibility to develop needed housing.

Patty Conover with the Orange County Business Council said the county "is in a housing crisis" and that tens of thousands of new units are needed just to meet the demand of existing residents.

Addressing that, she told the council and commission, will take "a lot of courage on your part to make sure that we are making the right decisions and protecting policies and procedures that help plan for my generation and the generations after me who cannot currently afford housing."

Throughout the meeting, residents complained that projects built under the small-lot ordinance and in the overlay areas have worsened traffic and parking problems, deprived neighborhoods of open space and changed the look and character of local communities.

They pointed to the November passage of Measure Y — a local growth-control initiative requiring voter approval for building projects that meet certain criteria — as evidence that residents feel burdened by overdevelopment.

"With Measure Y, people in Costa Mesa clearly spoke that they're concerned about traffic, they're concerned about parking, they're tired of perhaps the building that's being done not being able to be supported by the infrastructure," resident Anna Vrska said.

Generally, council members and commissioners seemed more interested in finding ways to adjust and improve the small-lot ordinance and overlays rather than scrapping them.

With the small-lot ordinance, actions such as increasing the amount of required open space, reexamining parking standards and adjusting setbacks could address some concerns, they said.

Several officials said they'd like another look at the residential incentive overlays that allow development at densities of up to 40 housing units per acre at certain commercial properties along Harbor and Newport boulevards.

The goal of those overlays was to encourage redevelopment of certain properties — namely motels that some have claimed are hotbeds of criminal activity and drug use.

Some officials, though, expressed concern with the idea of building dense housing next to already congested thoroughfares.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Byron de Arakal said he doesn't think it makes sense to dot Harbor and Newport with overlays "before we have a particular vision of what we want those corridors to be."

Mayor Katrina Foley said she'd like the city to look at developing neighborhood plans that take into account the opportunities and challenges in specific areas.

"Costa Mesa is not a one-size-fits-all community," she said. "Every neighborhood — Eastside, Westside, north and south — they're all very different and they require a different approach with regard to how we plan for zoning and housing."

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