Judge reverses Costa Mesa’s approval of Motor Inn redevelopment project

The fate of a proposal to raze the Costa Mesa Motor Inn and build a high-end apartment complex in its place is uncertain after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled this week that the project doesn’t comply with state law regarding development of affordable housing.

Judge Mary Strobel’s ruling Thursday reverses the city’s approval of the project, which would demolish the closed 236-room motel at 2277 Harbor Blvd. to make way for 224 new apartments.

A lawyer representing the motel’s owner, Miracle Mile Properties, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Costa Mesa spokesman Tony Dodero said in a statement that “the city and its legal counsel are evaluating the options to resolve this matter.”

The legal battle stems from a lawsuit filed in early 2016 by the Kennedy Commission, an Irvine-based affordable-housing advocacy group, and some Motor Inn residents.

Supporters of the project said it would rid Costa Mesa of a blighted motel that long attracted illegal activity. But the lawsuit alleged the city signed off without providing relocation plans or appropriate assistance for the low-income residents who would be displaced.

“There is a real need for affordable housing in Orange County, and all local and state tools should be utilized in a way that produces housing to help us address that need,” Cesar Covarrubias, executive director of the Kennedy Commission, said in an interview Friday. “The city needs to do its part.”

Strobel ruled the proposed development doesn’t conform with state density bonus law, which allows developers to build more units on a property than originally permitted if a percentage of the new units are set aside for low-income residents.

Under the City Council-approved plan, the density on the Motor Inn property would be 54 units per acre — more than the city’s high-density definitions, which reach up to 40 units per acre.

In the case of the Motor Inn project, Covarrubias said some of the new apartments would be designated for people with moderate incomes, but none were promised for those with lower incomes.

The problem, he said, is that “you really are allowing the developer to develop a project that’s close to 100% market rate and you’re not getting much of a benefit in terms of affordable housing in the city.”

Dodero acknowledged the “legal setback” but noted the judge also “fully rejected the Kennedy Commission’s claim that the city engaged in housing discrimination.”

Another allegation in the lawsuit — “that the city was responsible for relocation payments to previous occupants of the motel” — was transferred to another judge and is still pending, Dodero said.

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