Almost five months after running into fierce opposition from the public and disapproval from the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, a retooled proposal to demolish much of an existing strip mall on Bristol Street and replace it with a large self-storage facility won unanimous City Council approval Tuesday night.
The approved project entails flattening most of the Autoplex center at 375 Bristol so the property's owners can build 719 storage units in a two-story building.
About 12,500 square feet, or roughly a third, of the existing retail space will remain. Some of the center's current tenants will be allowed to stay, according to project spokesman Paul Freeman. They include Sandwich World, Dan's Autocare Express and Sushi Imari, Freeman said.
The property owners, Sanderson J. Ray Development of Newport Beach and Cardinal Development of Costa Mesa, also agreed to work toward undergrounding utility poles in front of the property.
Freeman said the new project will reduce traffic and "be a lot better looking, more vibrant, quieter and cleaner, environmentally speaking," compared with what's there now.
The goal, Freeman said, is to break ground on the project near the end of 2017 and wrap up construction a year or so after that.
Redeveloping the 3.2-acre site is necessary, he said, because the existing center is not economically viable in the long term.
The road to Tuesday's vote was rocky at times. Originally, the applicants had sought permission to raze the entire Autoplex to make way for 774 storage units and a freestanding 5,000-square-foot food hall.
Many Autoplex business owners rallied against that version of the project, saying it would shutter successful small businesses and put employees out of work.
Planning commissioners had qualms with the proposal when they first reviewed it in June and urged the property owners to work with the tenants who would be displaced.
Tensions between Autoplex tenants and ownership faded somewhat during a second Planning Commission hearing last month, with some tenants throwing their support behind the revised plan.
But a few people urged the commission to deny it, saying the project would still force some businesses to relocate, which could be difficult, if not impossible.
The commission unanimously endorsed the redesigned project Oct. 10.
Those who addressed the council on Tuesday spoke favorably of the proposal.
George Bean, owner of Sandwich World, said he's excited to see the property get a facelift and appreciates the property owners' efforts to work things out with tenants.
"We think they've been fair to us," Bean said. "We think they've been fair to the rest of the tenants."
Councilwoman Sandy Genis called the applicants' outreach to tenants "a model for anyone else who wants to redo a center."
In an interview Wednesday, Freeman called the outcome "a good one for everybody, so we feel good about it."
Sobeca amendment approved
Council members also voted Tuesday to approve an urban plan amendment to allow as many as 450 residential units, at densities of up to 40 units per acre, to be built in the city's Sobeca district — a 39-acre area around The Lab and The Camp shopping centers on Bristol Street.
The item originally was on the council's Oct. 17 agenda, but that meeting ended abruptly after Genis left the dais and walked out of City Hall in an attempt to prevent the amendment from being adopted.
Though the two other council members at that meeting, Mayor Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, voted to pass the amendment as Genis left, there was uncertainty over whether that vote was sufficient to approve the item.
Because of the ambiguity, city staff placed it on Tuesday's agenda and it was approved 3-2, with Genis and Councilwoman Katrina Foley opposed.
The development capacities for Sobeca are already outlined in the recent update to the city's general plan, but the council needed to amend the urban plan to make the two documents consistent.