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New housing to displace longtime renters

Seven 1940s-era bungalows, some with gardens, will give way to three-story condos in Costa Mesa. Construction could start by mid-2014.

October 16, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • Tom Dobrzeniecki, 60, has lived in his two-bedroom, 660-square-foot bungalow on Bernard Street in Costa Mesa for 30 years. Seven bungalows built in the 1940s on a nearly half-acre plot are set to be replaced by new condos, part of new development coming to the Westside.
Tom Dobrzeniecki, 60, has lived in his two-bedroom, 660-square-foot… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Tom Dobrzeniecki has been in Costa Mesa for 30 years, but has recently found himself fighting to keep his home.

As part of the new development springing up in the city's Westside, 10 condos are set to replace seven 1940s bungalows on a nearly half-acre plot at 522 and 526 Bernard St. Dobrzeniecki lives in one of them.

The 60-year-old math teacher from Detroit is a renter with limited influence over the future prospects for the land, on which he occupies 660 square feet within two bedrooms and one bathroom. A Newport Beach-based developer, MDM Investment Group, acquired the property in February for about $1.3 million, according to property records.

The inconspicuous Bernard Street community — near Charle Street and just shy of bustling Harbor Boulevard — is surrounded by a wooden picket fence that's likely as old as the houses themselves. The entrance gates have no locks and insideis one of few pastoral places left that's reminiscent of Costa Mesa life before South Coast Plaza, The Triangle, freeways and traffic jams.

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The mailboxes were made in Youngstown, Ohio — throwbacks to a booming post-war American steel industry that, as of late, are showing some rust.

Plenty of grassy, open spaces encircle the buildings, making the area appear well-kept and loved. From the outside, however, the bungalows' walls and roofs look largely unimproved. One building is uninhabitable.

To the tenants' joy, many of the units have their own gardens. Dobrzeniecki said the mother of the former owner used to take care of the plants, but now the tenants mostly do so themselves.

Among the greenery are a lemon tree, a plum tree and cactus. Dobrzeniecki has even made his own wine from some grape vines there. Under MDM's ownership, monthly rents generally run from $1,500 to $1,600.

"According to the plan, they're saying the purpose of the project is to create variety in housing," Dobrzeniecki said. "But try to find housing like this. This is a stand-alone bungalow. You don't have common walls with anyone. You have a garden area where you can plant sunflowers. It allows pets, and all of it is at a low price."

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Three-story condos

The plans for 522 and 526 Bernard, though, are in stark contrast with what's there now.

MDM presented plans to the Planning Commission on Monday night for 10 attached condos with a modern architectural style of large glass panels, metal awnings, and metal and glass railings for the balconies and roof decks.

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