A shorthanded and split Costa Mesa Planning Commission decided Monday to support a proposal to build 38 townhomes near downtown.
The 2-1 vote — with Commissioner Jon Zich opposed and members Jeffrey Harlan and Carla Navarro Woods absent — moves the project to the City Council, which will make the final determination on whether the developer, the Olson Co., can put shovels in the ground.
The proposed project would redevelop about 1.86 acres north and south of Ford Road at its intersection with Newport Boulevard to replace existing public storage and RV storage facilities with three-story homes.
Twelve of the townhomes would have two bedrooms and the rest would have three. Units would range from 1,288 to 1,814 square feet and feature Spanish Colonial architecture.
“There are challenges to developing this particular plot of land, and I think the applicant has done a pretty good job of proposing a development that will work both from a financial and redevelopment perspective and from a neighborhood revitalization perspective,” said commission Chairman Stephan Andranian.
When the project first came to light last year, it called for closing a portion of Ford Road near Newport Boulevard to through traffic. That proposal drew concerns and condemnation from some nearby residents who said Ford Road provides a vital cut-through to Harbor Boulevard that enables them to avoid traffic jams where the 55 Freeway ends at 19th Street.
Others said they worried that such a change would make it more difficult for emergency responders to access the area or for residents to leave quickly if needed.
Since then, the Seal Beach-based Olson Co. has revised the proposal to include a one-way, privately owned access from Newport Boulevard that would be open to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Vehicles would use Ford Road to exit the site.
According to the developer, the latest version of the project would create additional opportunities for homeownership and beautify a rundown area without sacrificing access.
“We believe this proposal calms traffic; it’s going to remove blight and remove vagrancy,” Haggai Mazler, director of development for the Olson Co., told the commission. “When you have 38 homeowners, that’s a lot of eyes on the street, a lot of eyes watching this community, and we feel that the activity currently going on here is going to disappear.”
Some residents in the area agreed that the project could help address issues with crime and drug use and thus improve public safety.
Others, however, weren’t convinced of the development’s benefits.
Several residents of the Rolling Homes mobile-home park at 1973 Newport Blvd. said the proposed townhomes would be too tall and too close — threatening their privacy — and that the envisioned access route isn’t sufficient.
Though he eventually voted in favor of the project, commission Vice Chairman Byron de Arakal said he too was somewhat troubled by that.
“I’m worried about people’s ability to slow down enough and make a quick right-hand turn into what is essentially a residential driveway to cut through. … On the other hand, I love the project,” he said.
Zich said he didn’t support the Olson Co.’s request to deviate from some code requirements — including regarding open space — particularly since the city must agree to rezone the site from commercial to residential for the development to move forward.