Monday, December 10, 2007

Development vs. Parking - What's The Solution?

Driving around our town you cannot help but notice the growing proliferation of common interest developments - former single family lots that were purchased by developers, who scraped the little homes from them and built 4-6 units in the same spot. They replaced a 1200-1400 square foot, 2-bedroom, 2 bath residence with 12,000 square feet of living space in the form of a half dozen two-story 3 and 4 bedroom, 3 bath dwelling units. In most cases, the parking spaces provided don't come close to those necessary to meet the needs, which means the excess spills out onto the neighborhood streets. These kind of developments are popping up like mushrooms. Most of them really look nice, but severely overtax the infrastructure, including parking.

Last week my travels took me past a couple recent housing developments in our city - the Standard Pacific project near Harbor and Adams behind Mesa Verde Center and the Richmond Homes development at the former site of the Daily Pilot on Bay Street. Two things stuck me as I drove through both of those neighborhoods. First, you get the feeling that everything is just too close together - like driving through a series of canyons. Second, the parking is abysmal! In fact, driving through the Richmond Homes development is kind of like driving through an open wound because of the proliferation of red curbs.

With the holidays just around the corner and parties being planned, I found myself wondering how the residents in those two developments plan to handle visitors to their homes.
At the Standard Pacific development, if they invite more than two couples someone is going to walk a quarter mile from the closest parking space. At the Richmond Homes development extra cars almost certainly already spill out onto the surrounding neighborhood.

The problem here, as I see it, is systemic. Our ordinances, as administered by our Planning Commission and City Council, permit developers to squeeze every last square inch of space on a lot without enough consideration to what happens after the last home is sold and the residents are left to deal with the traffic flow, parking and general congestion of such developments. I understand that we can't expect developers to do business in Costa Mesa if we impose such draconian restrictions that they cannot make a profit, but I suspect that's not the case.

This is not only a problem in new housing developments, either. It's a problem with many retail projects, too. For example, on the far eastside there is a strip mall on the corner of East 17th Street and Irvine Avenue that suffers from severe underparking. It's a real Catch 22 situation. Businesses that move into this particular mall and are successful eventually suffer business loss because of their success and the success of the businesses around them. As a result, there is a steady stream of new businesses passing through the mall.

What's my point? Well - and this will make my old pal, Planning Commissioner Jim Fisler happy - I think we need to fine-tune our rules about parking. I think we need to strictly enforce those rules already in place - which doesn't seem to happen very often - and make it clear to any developers planning to do business in Costa Mesa that we will be unwavering in the enforcement of adequate, off-street parking for any new projects.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what's coming next. You're going to tell me that this will discourage development. Maybe, but I don't think development for development's sake is necessarily a good idea. Yes, it's a good idea to encourage ownership housing to a greater extent - our ratio of renters to owners is upside down. However, I don't think jamming five or six times the number of people onto a residential lot than was originally planned is a smart way to go.


I need to have someone explain to me why it's important to just keep packing more and more people into what is constantly referred to as a "built-out city". If we were to magically tear down half of the apartment buildings in this city and replace them with condos or single family homes that would accommodate only two-thirds of the people, is that necessarily bad? I don't think so. More people doesn't necessarily make for a better city - only a bigger one, with all the problems that come with compressing the population. We should take the same view with these insidious common interest developments, too. More people stuffed into otherwise quiet neighborhoods doesn't make them better, only more crowded.


That's my view on this subject. I expect to hear from Commissioner Jim on this one, but what about the rest of you? Any ideas?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: the parking issue. I happen to know of a little BBQ joint on the East side of town that has 6 spaces but seating for about 90 people, inside and out. Despite my own perception of favors granted (one of the investors sat on the Planning Commission), I'd say the planning of that project was poor at best, but the business doesn't seem to be doing very well (I've even heard it's for sale), so the traffic and noise haven't been as bad as in the past.

The same developer who opened that also has erected a few of those over-taxing 'multiple units on a lot' developments throughout the Eastside and Newport Heights. I haven't noticed any of them selling, though. Timing is everything, I guess.

12/11/2007 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Mike, I've noticed fewer cars in the parking lot, too. His two spec houses on Tustin have been complete for a few months but no buyers in sight. The big one in Newport on the same street seems to be taking a long time to complete. Building homes and selling them must be tougher than taking batting practice.

12/11/2007 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoff, I totally agree with you on this as you already know. BTW, the other Richmond development at Harbor and Fair is 37 units. Zoning allowed for 60!Also, thanks to neighborhood activists, the Standard Pacific development at Mesa Verde was reduced by approximately 30 homes. Both would have been nightmares if built out as allowed. The parking impacts on neighbors for NEW develpments seem to be mitigated under our parking standards. And now that the conversions are almost done, there are just a couple in the pipeline that beat the moratorium, any new conversions will be subject to the new tougher parking standards. When I first got on the planning commission and was always the lone vote for denial of conversions (based mostly on parking and density) I wondered if I was the only one concerned about the impact of quality of life issues for the adjoining neighbors of the conversions. Garlich kept stating it was "home ownership" and even if it was underparked and too dense(since it was "legal, non conforming") that it wouldn't be any worse than what we have now. I kept saying that we had to raise the bar towards conformity and be better than what we had to vote for a conversion. It seemed that "home ownership" was the only thing that mattered to him and my other commissioners. I even stated up on the dais that the planning commission should just stop putting the items on the agenda if home ownership was the only thing needed to get an OK. Projects could just be approved by staff as long as they were "home ownership". (Obviously I was being sarcastic, just for the record). No council members ever appealed any of the approvals, no neighbors spoke out. I began to wonder if I had it all wrong. But when the new commission was seated and the two new members started voting for denials based on parking and density you started seeing appeals of denials to council by the developers. Bever started taking parking to heart (except the recent one on Broadway which is still under appeal)and Mansoor joined him. Now people like Sandi Genis are coming to speak at councl denouncing underparked projects and the council seems to be listening. And now you! I finally feel vindicated after three years of fighting for parking. Thanks for joining in.

12/13/2007 08:12:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Ah, Commissioner Jim, I knew you'd sign in on this one. See, we don't disagree on everything! Thanks for your perspective on this subject. I can't imagine how they could jam more homes into that Standard Pacific property. As it is, there is only one way in and out of the development. Seems like a safety issue, don't you think? By the way, I understand you've filed papers so you can begin collecting campaign funds for a run for city council next year. Should be interesting....

12/13/2007 08:46:00 AM  

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