Dana Point residents Gary Pedneauh, left, and Anthony Cupo stroll around dog-friendly The Lab in Costa Mesa last year. Its “anti-mall” developer Shaheen Sadeghi wanted to add a mixed-use hub to the area, but the City Council rejected his proposal on July 3.
(Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Developer Shaheen Sadeghi sits in the office of his company, LAB Holding LLC., across the street from his Costa Mesa project The Lab, which he dubbed an antimall. On July 3, the Costa Mesa City Council rejected his latest SoBec project The Plant, saying it did not include enough parking. (CINDY YAMANAKA, STAFF FILE PHOTO)
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COSTA MESA — Shaheen Sadeghi, known for his hip “anti-mall” developments around Orange County, is not accustomed to hearing “no.” After all, his innovative retail centers — including The Lab and The Camp in Costa Mesa and the Anaheim Packing District — have garnered national acclaim.
Yet at a highly acrimonious meeting last week, the Costa Mesa City Council did just that — squelching Sadeghi’s plan to transform his property at Baker Street and Century Place into a mixed-use hub.
The bone of contention came down to what three council members saw as a parking deficit. “At the end of the day, it’s too dense and needs to be better parked,” Allan Mansoor said.
Despite that majority assessment, The Plant won unanimous approval from the Planning Commission in March.
“It’s a real disgrace,” Sadeghi said after the council’s decision. “We have done so much to revitalize this area — putting small businesses in place, adding jobs and raising property values. This has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with policy.”
He bristled at Councilman Jim Righeimer’s surprise condition that Sadeghi furnish $625,000 up front for a future parking structure.
“They changed the rules midstream,” said Sadeghi, who said he is “considering legal options.”
“I’m not going to bow down to this dysfunctional group of people,” Sadeghi said, adding that he spent millions on traffic engineers and “top of the line” architects for the now-defunct enterprise.
During a heated discussion prior to the vote, councilmembers Katrina Foley and John Stephens accused Righeimer, also a developer, of a personal grudge against Sadeghi.
At one point, Righeimer — who repeatedly took the reins from Mayor Sandy Genis — demanded that Sadeghi “sit down” when he started to approach the podium. “I am not going to go through the charade of us looking like a bunch of puppets up here,” Righeimer said.
Sadeghi had hoped to re-purpose three commercial buildings on the 2.2 acres he bought in 2006. The Plant would have featured shops and casual eateries encompassing a courtyard, as well as a four-story building with a combination of 48 residential units, 14 live/work units and office space.
It was intended to be Sadeghi’s latest venture in the city’s 39-acre South Bristol Entertainment & Cultural Arts Urban Plan, or SoBeca, adopted in 2006 for mixed-use development.
But the three opponents argued that The Plant’s two-level parking garage and uncovered parking spots, totaling 243 spaces, did not cut it.
“The parking is not off by a little but by a lot, in an area that already has parking problems,” Righeimer later said in an interview. “It’s disturbing that the planning commission didn’t understand that.”
Referring to Sadeghi as “slippery,” Righeimer said, “He’s this artist with long, flowing hair, and he’s a savant when it comes to concept and design. His projects are cool, but they’re grossly under-parked.”
Indeed, Yelp reviewers often mention parking challenges in overall positive reviews of The Lab and The Camp.
The staff report deemed The Plant’s parking allowance adequate, using what it described as a common formula: omitting some restrooms and communal areas from the project’s entire square footage. Factoring in those exclusions, The Plant would require as many as 63 more spaces, the report said.
Righeimer adopted the 63 figure as a basis for estimating how much money Sadeghi should put into a fund for a possible parking structure.
“Let’s say half of that — 30 spaces,” he said at the meeting. “I’ll just pick a number, say $25,000 a space. Put that towards the parking structure that the city will get done. I’ll make a motion to approve if we add a $750,000 fee.”
After some back and forth, Righeimer reduced his calculation to $625,000 — a portion of which eventually could be refunded to Sadeghi based on the degree of parking issues created by the development.
“He doesn’t like the applicant so he’s trying to exact money from him,” Stephens responded. “It’s wrong.”
Afterward, Stephens said that “staff historically hasn’t required common areas” to be counted for parking space requirements. “No one is going to drive somewhere to stand around in the walkway,” he said.
“The developer was asked to deposit $625,000 for a parking structure we may or may not build someday,” Stephens said. “We don’t even have land available.”
Foley said in an interview, “I’ve served on the city council for 10 years, and the council has never tried to exact such a fee. The rules changed on the dais, with zero legal or staff analysis. It’s bizarre.”
But Righeimer stands by his role in killing the project.
“All I did,” he said, “was ask the developer to put up a reasonable deposit on an under-parked project.”