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Apartment developers will pay new fee for parks in Costa Mesa

The Costa Mesa City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a new fee on developers of apartments.

The one-time fee will be a maximum of $5,000 per unit for apartment complexes containing more than 50 units. The funds would go toward expanding, improving or acquiring new land for city parks.

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Using a complex formula that takes into consideration the city's general plan goals and other factors, a city consultant had suggested a fee as high as $14,005 for each apartment.

Though other cities in Orange County charge such a fee on new rental properties, it is first for Costa Mesa, which for decades has only charged developers of for-sale residences, like condominiums and homes. That fee, established since 2005, is about $13,500 per unit; the council agreed to keep that fee the same.

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City staff noted that 40% of Costa Mesa's recent residential development is made up of for-sale units, leaving the remaining 60% of projects exempt from paying any money toward parks, despite the addition of residents who presumably would be using them.

"It's a crucial addition to our park fee update," said Daniel Inloes, a city planner.

Inloes said pending projects that would be subject to the fee include 224 apartments set to replace the Costa Mesa Motor Inn motel on Harbor Boulevard.

Lou Penrose, executive director of the Apartment Assn. of Orange County, warned that substantially increasing fees could "drive off" future development. Costa Mesa has a 97% occupancy rate, he said, and needs more housing to meet demand.

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Penrose added that many new apartment complexes have "cruise ship"-quality amenities for their residents — including saltwater pools, barbecues and cabanas — that should be counted toward meeting the city's recreation demands.

Though she voted in favor of the fee, Councilwoman Katrina Foley was skeptical of the $5,000 figure, which was suggested by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer.

She didn't offer an alternative but worried about $5,000 being picked "out of the air" instead of being based on a mathematical analysis.

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Farmers market

As of press time, the council had not yet addressed the appeal of a planned farmers market at an Eastside church.

Buoy Street resident Carrie Renfro appealed St. John the Divine Episcopal Church's request for hosting the market in its parking lot.

Renfro and neighbors have contended that the event at the East Bay Street property would contribute to traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood. The church's pastor, Phil DeVaul, has said the market would "promote relationships and community gathering."

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