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Harlan: City codes are hampering housing construction

July 18, 2013|By Jeffrey Harlan

The housing market appears to be recovering rapidly, and with property values increasing, some local developers and builders are intent on meeting the demand for new residential units.

After several years of depressed real estate activity, they are eagerly filing development applications and pulling construction permits.

But why are they trying to fit square pegs into round holes?

Let me explain. In a community that is 98% built-out, Costa Mesa's future growth primarily will be redevelopment of existing properties.

This means introducing more density on residential and infill sites or creatively redeveloping other types of properties (for example, converting commercial sites to mixed-use along Harbor Boulevard).

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However, we are not expecting a huge surge of new residents in Costa Mesa. According to the California Department of Finance, the city grew 2% (2,187 new residents) over the past decade, and projections indicate a similar growth rate for at least 10 more years.

The demand for a range of housing options and the paucity of available raw land has driven developers, designers and builders to reimagine how to accommodate new residents.

These prospective buyers are not necessarily looking for the conventional single-family home with a spacious yard and oversized garage. A growing trend, illustrated by a few new proposals on the city's Eastside and Westside, is the transformation of large, single-family residential lots into more dense development to meet the needs of young, first-time buyers.

To make these projects work, though, requires a slew of zoning code variances, minor design modifications and administrative adjustments. The city's development codes and policies, in this narrow arena, are obstacles to much-needed housing. And so we get square pegs butting against round holes.

Not surprisingly, when project applicants request discretionary approval, the fireworks usually fly at Planning Commission and City Council hearings. Sometimes it's just your garden variety NIMBYism —neighbors objecting to anything new in their backyards. Often it's a matter of raising legitimate concerns about traffic, noise and congestion generated by a development that will be denser than what currently exists.

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