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Permanent Costa Mesa homeless shelter may get needed zoning tweak

Airway Avenue site
Costa Mesa’s long-term, 50-bed homeless shelter could open next year in this warehouse on Airway Avenue near John Wayne Airport.
(File Photo)

Costa Mesa’s planned permanent homeless shelter is a step closer to having the zoning it needs to operate.

The city closed escrow in April on a 29,816-square-foot industrial warehouse at 3175 Airway Ave. for the 50-bed shelter and selected a contractor in July to remodel the space.

But emergency shelters currently are allowed only in portions of town zoned “planned development industrial,” where they would not need a conditional use permit to serve clients. The Airway building, near John Wayne Airport, is in the “industrial park” zone.

To overcome that regulatory obstacle, the city Planning Commission agreed 5-0 on Monday, with Commissioners Kedarious Colbert and Jenna Tourje absent, to recommend that the City Council approve a code amendment to allow shelters in both the planned development industrial and industrial park zones.

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Huntington Beach’s plan to open a new homeless shelter at 15311 Pipeline Lane is on hold and could be scrapped because of a lawsuit filed by a group that claims the site can be used only for industrial purposes.

When the city started seeking shelter sites last year as a condition of its settlement of a lawsuit filed by homeless people evicted from the Santa Ana River bed in 2018, it found several properties for sale or lease in PDI zones. However, all were legally structured as commercial condominiums, with covenants prohibiting shelters, according to Barry Curtis, the city’s director of economic and development services.

The Airway site, which the council agreed to purchase for $6.925 million, is in an industrial park zone adjacent to a PDI zone. Both zoning types are clustered near the airport and in the far northwest corner of town.

Costa Mesa shelter zoning
Homeless shelters currently are allowed in Costa Mesa only in the planned development industrial zones shown in yellow. A zoning code amendment recommended by the Planning Commission would also allow them, with some restrictions, in the industrial park zones shown in purple.
(Courtesy of city of Costa Mesa)

Under the proposed code amendment, shelters on privately owned land would be allowed in the industrial park zone with a conditional use permit, but those owned by the city — as is the case here — would not need the permit, Curtis said.

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The new shelter is to be run by the nonprofit Mercy House Living Centers, which already operates the city’s temporary homeless shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene on the Westside.

The City Council could take up the code amendment as soon as September. If it is approved, construction would begin on the new shelter in the fall and be completed by spring 2020.

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