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Harbor Boulevard getting new look

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The 113-unit Blue Sol apartment complex, pictured, recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The complex near Bernard Street and Harbor Boulevard contains a variety of amenities, such as a pool, spa, gym and outdoor kitchen.
(DON LEACH, Daily Pilot)

Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa has long been closely associated with its miles of strip malls, shopping centers and car dealerships. But that perception may be changing.

Some portions of the city’s main thoroughfare are looking more residential.

One of the recent changes is the completion of Blue Sol, a 113-unit apartment complex at Harbor and Bernard Street, across from The Triangle dining and entertainment center.

Blue Sol, which contains amenities such as a pool, a spa, a gym and an outdoor kitchen, has been busy, said Christine Hoffstadt, regional manager of Monogram Apartment Collection, Blue Sol’s owner and manager.

“We’re hoping to be fully occupied by the end of February,” Hoffstadt said. “The interest is huge.”

The complex hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week. Rents start at nearly $2,000 a month. The property is completely smoke-free.

Another development nearing completion is Azulón at Mesa Verde, a senior housing complex off Harbor at 1500 Mesa Verde Drive E., behind the Mesa Verde Center anchored by Vons. The 215-unit complex is owned and operated by M.V. Partners.

Both properties have been a long time coming.

Azulón’s lot once contained the Kona Lanes bowling alley, which was demolished in 2003. The area was largely vacant for years before Azulón was approved in 2010.

Development plans for Bernard Street reach back a decade, with tumultuous changes in ownership, a recession and a lawsuit.

In 2004, the City Council OKd 145 condominiums for the area. The project’s first phase, the 32-unit Pacifica at Newport Plaza, was completed in 2008.

Rutter Development, the initial developer, had filed a lawsuit in 2003 against the city and Costa Mesans for Responsible Growth, a local group that opposed the project. The council then reached a settlement in 2004 to have the development contain some affordable housing. In exchange, Rutter dropped its suit.

After that, however, the owner defaulted on its loans and was subject to a foreclosure proceeding, according to city documents. The property intended for the rest of the condos was vacant for years.

In 2012, a new developer, Fairfield Residential Co., came forward with an adjusted plan: 113 apartments built to condo specifications. With the change to apartments, however, the council did not approve the earlier provision for affordable housing.

Though some have cried foul over the density and building heights of recent Costa Mesa developments — they are creating “urban canyons,” as one City Hall critic put it — Mayor Jim Righeimer, a developer by trade, said such transformations along Costa Mesa’s version of Main Street are positive.

“For some reason, people think if something is on a main street, it should therefore be commercial,” Righeimer said. “When your town is doing storage lockers on your main street, that is completely not a preferred land use. That is a low land use for real estate.

“I think we have to be honest with ourselves when lots aren’t cheap enough and we’re not getting proper tenants.”

Projects such as Azulón and Blue Sol boost street corners that don’t contain as much activity as the commercial corners do, Righeimer said.

In between Harbor’s “strong” corners — such as Harbor and Adams Avenue, Harbor and Wilson Street and Harbor and Victoria Street — a residential complex could be successful, he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said Blue Sol will attract young professionals to the city and boost nearby commercial centers.

Blue Sol and Azulón, in addition to providing sufficient parking, have lower traffic projections than previous commercial uses, Mensinger contended.

“How do you compare it to a vacant lot?” Mensinger said. “The question is, what would you rather have? Mini-storage? Fast food? Tarot card reader?”