Planning officials are considering a proposal to build high-density workforce apartments in an industrial zone in downtown Brea, reserving a portion of those units for those who work in the city and offering more affordable housing.

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Manley Fanticola Holdings wants to build a five-story apartment building with 114 multi-family studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments at the southeast corner of Mercury Lane and Berry Street, a plan that requires rezoning the area to residential. The vacant 1.01-acre lot is owned by Manley Fanticola Holdings.

Ninety-one of the studios will be set aside for workers who live in Brea and 80 of them will have a fixed rent between $1,300 and $1,695 per month, according to a staff report.

The Mercury Development Project is unique and the first of its kind because of its private approach to provide housing in an affordable range, according to Liz Pharis, Brea’s public information officer.

The project was first introduced to the Planning Commission during a January public hearing.

In an upcoming March meeting, commissioners will discuss and determine their recommendation to the City Council to consider the zone change from industrial to planned community and a planned community master plan setting the development standards. The commission will also discuss its recommendation for the property management and implementation of the project, a development agreement that includes the community benefits for the project and a final environmental impact report to address the impacts of the residential project.

The city does not have any information regarding how much the project is estimated to cost or the specifics of the construction start and end date, if approved. Brea also has no plans to pay for the project. However, the applicant plans to begin construction before the end of the year and has 18 months to complete the project, according to Pharis.

The Planning Commission will not approve the project, but will only make a recommendation for the City Council to consider. The council will then hear the proposal, listen to public testimony and proceed with the final decision, said Pharis.

There will also be an appeal period and the project must go through the building permit process to obtain construction approval.

In two previous Planning Commission meetings, residents and others have voiced concerns about the planned development in a noisy industrial area and a need for adequate parking.

To counter parking concerns, the development calls for the construction of a ground level parking structure with 118 vehicle and 114 bicycle stalls. There will also be off-site guest parking at the Mercury Lane and Brea downtown parking garages.

The Mercury Development Project will not cause direct impact on downtown transportation and will only contribute to the already congested Mercury Lane and Berry Street intersection, stated Nicole Vermilion, principal of the Orange County office of Placeworks, a community planning and design company, at a January Planning Commission meeting.

The parking on Mercury Lane should require some type of control and regulations so shared users of the street are protected, said commission Vice Chair Gary Brattain at a February meeting.

Brattain also expressed the need to implement big rig trucking zones on Mercury Lane “to be a good neighbor to the other businesses that share the street.”

Because the project is planned for an industrial zone, the noise levels are expected to be higher than a typical residential neighborhood and the development does not meet the minimum standards for “open window conditions” as outlined in the state and city noise regulations, according to the city staff report.

To address this, the developer intends to upgrade the sound filtration of the exterior windows and sliding doors. Areas will also be shielded from undesirable noise by enclosing spaces with screening walls facing adjacent roadways.

During the February Planning Commission meeting, Commissioner Sara Barnes-Ramos read an email from unnamed Brea residents seeking clarification on who the development is targeting as tenants.

“(They) want to know how will the Mercury apartments enforce the requirement that only those who work in Brea can rent an apartment at The Mercury apartments. Wouldn’t that be considered discrimination? What would happen if a person loses their job, gets transferred or the company relocates to another city? Would the tenant have to move?” Barnes-Ramos read.

Developer Dwight Manley clarified that the right to live in the apartments would be sold in a permit to businesses for $500 a year, which they could assign to their employees. The offer will be originally extended to businesses within half a mile of the complex and then expanded to the rest of Brea.

“Yes, there would be a period that if you left working in Brea, you wouldn’t lose your home the next day,” Manley said. “But there would be a period of time that you don’t get to keep that benefit because this is a benefit for the local businesses.”

John Bickel, a longtime Brea resident and president of the Brea Historical Society, supports the development. Bickel said his personal experience of living in rental units and apartments have presented him with an ideal living situation and easy commute to work.

“Mercury Apartments are not low-income units; they are not subsidized by the government and our taxes,” Bickel said in a BreaMatters website post. “They are built near several businesses that have employees who can rent near work and will be very happy to eliminate their daily commute.”

The project will encourage people to live in Brea since the location is walking distance to shopping, entertainment, dining and recreation, said Bickel.

If recommended by the Planning Commission at its March 24 meeting, the City Council will make the final decision on the proposal.

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