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Proposed project hopes to lure young professionals to Costa Mesa's Westside

A proposed 176-unit residential development in Costa Mesa that would replace an industrial site faced some public and City Council scrutiny last week.

If approved, the Westside Gateway three-story home development would cover a 9-acre site at 671 W. 17th St., near Newport Beach city limits.

Supporters during Tuesday's council meeting said the high-end project would promote home ownership on the Westside, spawn future investment and boost nearby boutique retailers and restaurants.

Detractors said they worried about the loss of local jobs associated with industrial uses, as well as exacerbated traffic and parking problems.

Don Lamm, who represents the developer, Irvine-based Westport Properties, called the development an innovative housing style that exemplifies the Costa Mesa's Westside urbanization plans approved in 2006.

"We think it's a way to encourage the long-term stability on this end of town," Lamm said, saying the "live-work" homes promoted in the urbanization plans are designed to have home offices suitable for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Westside Gateway is initially proposed to have a half-acre park, community garden, two tot lots, passive open space and paseos. It will have access points from West 17th, and Pomona and Superior avenues.

The homes, which will range in size from 1,750 to 2,000 square feet, will have roof decks and two-car garages. Westport Properties has planned for 505 available parking spaces — slightly less than 528 the city requires.

Lamm said the property is occupied by Argo-Tech, an aerospace company, where it assembles and tests specialized pumps for liquefied natural gas.

He added that the property is one of two such test facilities on the West Coast, and modern environmental laws would make building another difficult.

If the residential development is approved, Lamm said, the testing facility would relocate.

Lamm, a former Costa Mesa administrator, said new uses for the property have been in discussion for at least two decades.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said he favors the project because it doesn't displace anyone and has received support letters from a dozen business owners.

"I look forward to seeing this kind of change in the Westside," he said. "This is how you capture the young folks coming into town."

Resident Sheila Pfafflin said Westside Gateway reminded her of impoverished East Coast row houses.

"If we must become a city of row houses, we might do worse than adopt Baltimore's designs," she said. "At least some of them are said to age gracefully, which is something I doubt will ever be said about these cracker boxes."

Peter Watson, a 33-year-old attorney and Costa Mesa resident, said Westside Gateway is the type of development that interests young professionals and their families.

"As someone who is looking to purchase a home, this type of project is the kind of thing I like to see on the Westside of Costa Mesa as a factor to potentially buying there," he said.

Interior designer Kristin Schwab said the live-work design would benefit her business.

"My line of work requires me to have an urban-chic flair," she said. "So when my clients see my home and drive up to my office, the image is very important and must reflect that style.

"It's exciting to see that the trend is moving away from traditional big-box housing and is more earth-conscious by impacting less space in urban cities."

Some City Hall regulars were skeptical of the plans and the people who spoke in favor of them.

Cindy Black called the men who supported Westside Gateway "groomed developers that are on their way up." She also questioned their concern for the city or if they had ties to the developer.

Steven Hellbusch responded to Black's comment that he isn't a "developer in training." Rather, he's a new Eastside homeowner and digital marking professional.

He said projects like Westside Gateway will attract more young professionals.

"Being in digital marketing, having that live-work opportunity is a big draw," Hellbusch said.

Mayor Jim Righeimer said the city's "brand is strong" and that he would support Westside Gateway.

"I'm really excited about this project," he said. "Let's figure out the technicalities and get it done."

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