Councilwomen, club owner protest housing project

COSTA MESA — A growing number of artists and hip retailers, as well as at least two city councilwomen, want Costa Mesa to reconsider its decision to allow construction of low-income senior housing near what is supposed to be a burgeoning arts district along and near Baker Street.

Harper's Pointe, a planned 53-unit complex for seniors that would be built atop a retail center at 845 Baker St., was approved last week by the City Council following a review requested by Councilwoman Wendy Leece.

Leece has now called for another review of the project — a request also supported by Councilwoman Katrina Foley.

Leece mainly is concerned about noise coming from patrons of the nearby Shark Club, a popular nightclub, and how it might affect senior citizens who would be living about 35 feet away.

Developer USA Properties Fund Inc., and property owner Red Mountain Group said during the July 6 council meeting that the noise impact isn't of great concern because the complex will be constructed in a way that would block it and that noise studies support their claims.

But the noise-impact study that was submitted to the city was outdated and based on another project on Baker Street, Leece said.

"There's no evidence that a new noise study was done with the specific 845 Baker project in mind," Leece wrote in the request for a so-called "rehearing." "Staff may have concluded this was acceptable, however as a council person, this small detail is important to me."

Leece also states that the study doesn't show that the noise impact was measured to estimate the impact that Shark Club would have on the residents, but the impact of the Corona del Mar (73) Freeway. The estimate the property owner provided was based on measured noise levels, but not on an actual test, Leece said.

Mel Lee, Costa Mesa's senior planner, said the 2007 noise impact that was submitted to the city applies to the current project because the Shark Club and the freeway were there when the study was done. He added that the 801 Baker St. project, on which the noise study was based, is next door to the Shark Club.

"The Shark Club is sandwiched in between 801 and 845 Baker," he said.

Leece isn't the only one opposed to the project.

Business owners and residents who live and work near the proposed project say they are disappointed with the city's decision, as they want the city to continue nurturing the area's burgeoning artistic scene.

Shaheen Sadeghi, chief executive of the Lab Holdings, who developed the Camp shopping center, said the city's decision to approve a low-income senior housing complex contradicts the vision that he and many business owners and city stakeholders have worked on for years to transform the 39 acres south of Baker Street, east of the 73, into an arts district.

"The zoning document is carefully crafted and very specifically states that it would promote artists' galleries, entertainment, restaurants and artists lofts," he said. "And so I think then for the city to now change that plan and turn this area into a low-income senior living is disturbing."

The city is required by the state to provide adequate land for 642 low-income and extremely low-income units by 2014. The Harper's Pointe project would fulfill some of that requirement, with 52 units.

Sadeghi said the location isn't the best place for the project.

"We're not against senior living or low-income housing, I just think there's a place for everything," Sadfeghi said. "I'm in my late 50s, both my wife and I are in our 50s, we both have arts degrees. It's not about age; it's about low-income housing next door to a bar, upside from a freeway in an area that's being designed for entertainment."

In early 2000, Sadeghi approached the city about developing the south Bristol Street corridor into an arts district. In 2002, Costa Mesa appointed the Bristol Street Committee, which studied the area and came up with the South on Bristol Entertainment, Culture and Arts (SoBeCa) Urban Plan. The plan, which was approved by the City Council in 2004, identified the objectives, polices and the goals needed to develop the arts district. It called for a "unique character of artist lofts" to encourage a "live/work community." It also identified the Camp and the Lab, known as the "anti-mall," as anchors to south Bristol.

SoBeCa also encouraged architecture and design that reflects district's goals.

The developer of Harper's Pointe plans to give the building a contemporary look, styling it with "vertically scored stucco with metal seam copper panels, cement plasters and anodized aluminum windows," according to city records.

But Sadeghi said he can't imagine how the complex will fit in with the SoBeCa vision, given that USA Properties once built military bunkers for the government.

"We spent 20 years trying to upgrade the arts and designs," he said. "The vision is not to bring in a military bunker, low-housing builder."

The owners of the Shark Club are also opposed to the project and plan to bring forth their own noise study, Leece said.

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