Pictured is a conceptual drawing of a proposed 240-unit apartment complex at 125 E. Baker St., Costa Mesa, that would replace a 1970s-era office building. (Courtesy RED OAK INVESTMENTS / April 12, 2014)

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For Garry Lukas and his allies, their opinions on the matter are clear: It's a case of Costa Mesa planners "gone wild."

Much to Lukas' chagrin, a proposal for a 240-unit apartment complex is wending its way through the City Hall approval process, which means that his sheet-metal manufacturing business could have residential neighbors as soon as next year.

With so many new dwellings, Lukas and other business people near him contend, will come the inevitable traffic, decreased land values and the stomping on business owners' interests in favor of developers.

Lukas also worries that should the residential dwellings sprout up nearby, industrial folks like him will catch flak for doing what they have been doing for decades: manufacturing, sometimes noisily, in an area historically zoned for just that purpose.

"I want to be left alone," Lukas said on a recent afternoon, glancing toward the roughly 4.2-acre, commercially zoned site across the street where the apartments would replace an office building built in 1974.

Shaded by rows of pine trees, the nondescript 66,000-square-foot West Airport Center is about 35% vacant and quiet, save for the steady hum of passing cars from the adjacent freeway and occasional metal grinding emanating from Lukas' business, AZ Mfg Inc.

What makes this particular project significant from most others in Costa Mesa is its proposed location: about a half-mile from John Wayne Airport, where nearby acreage is predominantly business parks interspersed with light manufacturing. If approved and rezoned to high-density residential, the land at 125 E. Baker St. would be the only housing property east of the 55 Freeway.

The developer, Joe Flanagan of Irvine-based Red Oak Investments, contends that the airport area is slowly changing with the addition of schools, churches and creative work spaces.

The apartment complex — a quality, high-end "class A" project — is part of that evolution, he said.

Having so many young professionals and families thrive there would bring unprecedented life to an area that's otherwise hushed after standard business hours.

For Lukas and other business owners along Briggs Avenue, apartments across the street are a threat. They don't belong.

"This whole place will just come to a grinding halt," he said.


'Beverly Hills of manufacturing'

The wide side streets near 125 E. Baker are, thanks to a recent city effort, freshly repaved.

Grassy setbacks separate parking lots from roads. On the surface, it all looks like just another business park in Orange County.

Decades ago, boosters billed the area as idyllic. A 1970s brochure referred to it as the Irvine Industrial Complex: "A better location for industry in a better environment for people."

Among the facilities within close distance of the West Airport Center are a Tesla electric car service branch, a church with a preschool, a county health center, an auto repair shop, a plastics injection factory and an electronic parts manufacturer.

Those types of existing land uses, Lukas argues, are what make the planned apartments next door so out of place. When it comes to this issue, Lukas isn't afraid to use the word "tenements" to describe the project and "propaganda" to indicate his fierce effort to sway opinion.

Many of his creations are custom-made graphics or cartoons that he emails out and tapes up in AZ Mfg's front office. One is a cartoon of two women exchanging scenarios should the apartment complex come to fruition: "There will be strangers moving in and out of the neighborhood." "Big trucks driving around kids!" "People walking their dogs during rush hour." "People complaining about noise."