The Costa Mesa Motor Inn — a now-shuttered motel that became a flashpoint in the local affordable-housing debate when its owner moved to replace it with new apartments — is being torn down.
An excavator ripped into the rear of the building Tuesday, pausing occasionally as workers hosed down the structure.
Several mattresses and box springs, seemingly relics from before the 236-room motel shut its doors for good two years ago, were piled in the parking lot. Green construction fencing fronted the property at 2277 Harbor Blvd., where dozens of residents and Motor Inn tenants had once gathered to protest the redevelopment plan.
The demolition marks the start of the next chapter for the site, which owner Miracle Mile Properties plans to convert into an apartment complex.
A representative of Miracle Mile could not be reached Tuesday to comment about the construction timeline. But company President Frank Menlo said in the summer that the Los Angeles-based firm was “eager to break ground soon.”
The City Council originally approved the development in 2015. At the time, Miracle Mile proposed to replace the motel with 224 high-end apartments.
Supporters of the project said it would benefit the city by providing additional housing and getting rid of a blighted motel that had become a site of prostitution and other criminal activity.
In January 2016, the Kennedy Commission — an Irvine-based affordable-housing advocacy group — and some Motor Inn residents filed a lawsuit alleging the city had approved the development without providing relocation plans or appropriate assistance for low-income residents who stood to be displaced.
Advocates said motels like the Motor Inn provide a last-resort option for people struggling to contend with the high cost of living in Orange County.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge reversed the city’s approval of the redevelopment project in May 2017, ruling the proposal did not conform with the state density bonus law that allows developers to build more units on a property than originally permitted if a proportion of the new units is set aside for low-income residents.
Under a settlement announced in July this year, Miracle Mile agreed to scale down the new complex to no more than 200 units and to designate nine units for 55 years to people with very low incomes.
Costa Mesa and Miracle Mile agreed to pay a total of $1.4 million to cover the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. They also agreed to place $600,000 in a fund available for former long-term motel occupants, with the city contributing an additional $200,000 to the client trust fund account of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County.