The Costa Mesa City Council got an earful Tuesday evening from mobile home park residents expressing disappointment and frustration over proposed plans to convert the park for seniors to a high-density apartment complex.
In the end, the residents got a reprieve.
Before the nearly 3.5-acre Rolling Homes senior community at 1973 Newport Blvd. could be converted to a 208-unit apartment complex, an amendment to the city's General Plan was needed. But the council voted 4-0 to deny changing the land-use designation from "general commercial" to "high-density residential."
Councilman Gary Monahan, who owns a restaurant within 500 feet of the development, recused himself from the vote.
"It's not a bad project, but there are a lot of questions that need to be answered at this juncture," said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger.
Mayor Jim Righeimer said the city couldn't force the closure of the mobile home park.
"This is a big ask, a massive ask to go on this project," Righeimer said. He called a potential conversion a "long, arduous process."
Residents from Rolling Homes, which has about 55 spaces, called their community well-maintained, "not a trailer park" with the negative connotation that generally accompanies such a description. They said they were never notified by the owner, the city or the developer about plans to convert the area.
"These are seniors," said Mary Jo Baretich, a representative with the nonprofit Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League. "Many of them are disabled, very, very low income."
She also spoke against the project — and future mobile home park closures in Costa Mesa.
"If this one starts," Baretich said, "it'll be the next mobile home park and the next mobile home park, and you'll have no place to go."
According to city documents, the plans of Newport Beach-based developer Province Group call for the main entrance of the apartment complex to be off Ford Road, at the current site of Orange Coast Trailer Supply.
Larry Sutton, owner of the business, said before the vote that he didn't know how the project would be built because he has no intentions to sell his land, a comment that brought laughter and applause from many in the audience.
"It doesn't plan on moving," said Sutton. "I don't know what they're going to do without my piece of land."
Jay Humphrey, a frequent council critic and former councilman, called for a mobile home park closure ordinance that would give the city guidance in the future.
All mobile home park residents "should be on notice" and anticipate future "upheaval," he said.
Pat Helgeson, a representative from Province Group, said the mobile home park's land is in escrow and "would be sold, one way or another." According to Helgeson, the land is worth about $478,000 and, with the apartment complex, the value would escalate to nearly $50 million.
He acknowledged problems associated with the development.
"I understand that change is difficult and it's a senior park," Helgeson said before the vote. "And there's going to be some concern."
He said he felt the apartments would be a better fit for the site than a commercial development.
"We feel this is the highest and best use for the property," Helgeson said.
Earlier that morning, Rolling Homes residents had amassed in their clubhouse to hear about their options. They passed around copies of the council agenda and design concepts for the apartment complex.
It was standing room-only in the room, forcing others to listen from outside.
Most said they hadn't heard of any plans for their park until reading about them in the Daily Pilot on Sunday. Others said they were frustrated about the situation, feeling that the family that has owned the property indicated that it would remain a mobile home park.
On the advice of Baretich, the residents, in a show of quick democracy, formed a homeowners association and elected a few people to head it.