Costa Mesa rakes over the Kohl's

Deirdre Newman

Nice store. Wrong location.

This attitude toward a Kohl's department store proposed for the

Mesa Verde Center echoed throughout council chambers again and again

Monday and ended up sinking C.J. Segerstrom & Sons' efforts to bring

the national chain to Mesa Verde.

The City Council heard the message and rejected the plans for a

Kohl's by a 4-1 vote. The 96,000-square-foot store would have been

one of 28 new Kohl's to open in the Southern California area.

The resounding sentiment among Kohl's opponents, who

overwhelmingly outnumbered supporters, was that the Segerstrom & Sons

were trying to shoehorn a project into the center that was much too

massive.

"It's like trying to put a size 10 foot into a size eight shoe,"

Douglas LaBelle said. "It may fit, but it hurts at the end [of the

day]."

Paul Freeman, spokesman for Segerstrom & Sons, said he was

disappointed with the outcome and was unsure what the company's next

steps would be. The Segerstroms do not plan to ask for a rehearing,

though, and would like to work with residents on a more favorable

project, Freeman said.

A few residents, including some of the homeowners who live

directly behind the proposed department store, supported the project.

"I would not have bought [my home] knowing it was going to be [an]

entertainment [use]," Kevin Orton said. "I have a 95,000-square-foot

vacant, run-down [lot] in my backyard."

Kohl's opponents exhorted Segerstrom & Sons to create a proposal

that more closely mirrors the city's eclectic spirit.

"We need something more reflective of Costa Mesa and more unique,"

Jim Kerrins said. "Something that could be found here and not

elsewhere."

Mesa Verde residents savored their underdog victory against what

they considered a threat to their quality of life: density and

traffic.

"I feel like the neighborhood won this time and that doesn't

happen very often," Robin Leffler said. "We're pleased and we're

looking forward to our homeowners' association talking with the

Segerstroms and maybe having a town hall meeting with them to see

what we can work out when we actually work together. If a developer

comes in here with a good project, we'd support it."

Many residents still prefer recreation although all three

recreational and entertainment uses -- the movie theater, ice skating

rink and Kona Lanes bowling alley -- have failed or are failing. The

first two are closed and Kona Lanes will close by the end of June.

Leffler illustrated this passion by proudly waving a $1,000 check

she received from the Costa Mesa Citizens for Responsible Growth on

the way into City Hall Monday night. The funds will serve as seed

money if a community group comes forward to purchase Kona Lanes or a

portion of the property for bowling or some other kind of recreation,

Leffler said.

But the Segerstroms have washed their hands of recreation for the

property, Freeman said.

"We tried diligently for six-plus years to pursue that and are

convinced it doesn't work there, not with quality operators," Freeman

said. "It just isn't in the cards."

Segerstrom & Sons will probably begin demolishing all three vacant

buildings after Kona Lanes closes, Freeman said.

In February, the Planning Commission approved the project on a 4-1

vote because it complied with all the general plan and zoning. Mayor

Karen Robinson appealed that approval and was adamant about voting on

it Monday, her last City Council meeting before she resigns on

Tuesday to become an Orange County Superior Court judge.

Robinson, a lawyer, repeatedly emphasized her opinion that there

was a legal basis in the general plan to reject Kohl's: the

cumulative effect the massive building would have on the area. She

also disputed a national traffic model that was used to gauge the

effect Kohl's traffic would have.

"I think we reached the right decision in rejecting a project of

this size and I would hope any project of this size and intensive use

would be rejected at this location," Robinson said. "I'm hoping the

City Council directs staff to look into a rezoning of this particular

area to a lower intense use and also to incorporate a requirement of

recreational uses there."

Councilwoman Libby Cowan cast the lone dissenting vote. Echoing

the Planning Commission, Cowan said she supported the project because

it meshes with the general plan.

"I certainly think there is traffic," Cowan said. "We live in an

urbanized, traffic society. I'm not sure the issues of traffic are

issues that are reasonably put forward to deny the project."

* DEIRDRE NEWMAN covers Costa Mesa and may be reached at (949)

574-4221 or by e-mail at deirdre.newman@latimes.com.

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