Planners hear input on small-lot proposal

The Costa Mesa City Council and Planning Commission on Tuesday discussed a proposed ordinance that would regulate and streamline future developments of single-family homes on small-land parcels.

City planners received input on the small-lot subdivision ordinance, including what some say is a need for zoning-code changes, given the market demand for new detached homes over condominiums.

The proposed ordinance would apply to developments of 15 or fewer single-family homes in areas zoned for multifamily units. It would not call for changes to a project's parking and density requirements.

Among the proposals outlined in the ordinance: removing the minimum 3,000-square-foot lot size, the 3,500-square-foot average lot size and 10-foot minimum distance between main buildings — specifications currently in place for small-lot developments.

It also would not require incorporating a homeowners association, but rather a more informal "maintenance association" or "maintenance agreement," according to city staff.

Lydia Lim, a real estate law attorney with Los Angeles-based Soukup & Schiff, participated in the joint commission-council study session via conference call. Asked about the difference between an HOA and maintenance association, she cited more flexibility in the latter.

She said it's quite difficult for homeowners who are not lawyers to follow the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act — the state law that governs "common-interest" developments, such as condo complexes.

"A lot of times, they have a management company guide them to do it correctly," Lim said.

Future housing developments in Costa Mesa won't be like it was years ago, with master-planned communities spread out over many acres, Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy said.

"The idea of going out and buying 50 acres in Costa Mesa just isn't a reality," he said.

McCarthy, who was part of a team about four years ago that first looked into such an ordinance, also said the notion of building and buying new 3,000-square-foot homes is "long gone."

People are now "living smaller" and more efficiently, he noted.

McCarthy said planners looked at similar ordinances being developed for Los Angeles and San Diego and then began drafting one for Costa Mesa.

The small-lot ordinance is not being "developer-pushed," he added, but instead has been encouraged by groups like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

When it comes to parking, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger lamented that "no matter what we do, parking is going to be an issue."

He also noted that during his early morning walks about the city, he sees many Eastside streets lined with parked cars.

Councilman Gary Monahan, who lives in the Eastside, said developments built decades ago, which were subject to less-stringent parking requirements, have caused today's "horrendous" parking situation.

"I'd hate to see this thing get killed over parking, because the parking standards we have here are as good as we've had," Monahan said.

The ordinance will benefit many areas of the city, he added.

Mayor Jim Righeimer said the Eastside formed over time and was never master-planned, so the strategy today is about "working with what we have."

Mensinger and others said parking for many new projects is planned under the assumption that residents will use their garages to park their cars. Frequent problems arise, however, when garages are used for other purposes, such as storage, which can put cars onto the limited curb space or in adjacent neighborhoods.

Robin Leffler, a Mesa Verde resident, said during public comments that past city efforts have helped promote quality projects and avoid ones being built with small setbacks, no landscaping and insufficient parking.

She expressed concern that some recently approved housing developments might be "regressing to where we were before. I hope not."

Mesa North resident Martin H. Millard said the small-lot developments should be replacing the Westside's "functionally obsolete buildings" with better ones and not just aiding the Eastside.

Costa Mesa's small-lot subdivision ordinance — possibly a first for any Orange County city — will next go to the Planning Commission, where it will be subject to a public hearing.

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