Fairgrounds extends EIR review time

Public now has until Feb. 8 to send comments

In a reversal that came as a welcome surprise to city leaders and interested parties, the Del Mar Fairgrounds’ governing body extended the public review period for its proposed expansion’s environmental impact report.

After receiving written requests from the city of Del Mar, State Sen. Christine Kehoe’s office, and an attorney representing the San Diego Sierra Club, the 22nd District Agricultural Board moved its deadline for formal comments back to Feb. 8.

The board had previously sent a letter to the city of Del Mar denying its appeal for more time. The fairgrounds originally gave 90 days for written responses, double the requirement of 45, for a cut-off date of Jan. 8. But because the report was roughly 4,400 pages, they received further complaints about a lack of time to thoroughly analyze the document, especially over the holiday season.

“If they’re surprised, they’re surprised. We’re trying to be good neighbors and trying to give everyone a chance to review,” said Fairgrounds General Manager Tim Fennell. “No excuses after this.”

Proposed is a multi-phase project that includes building an exhibition hall that will hold three rooftop soccer fields, a hotel and fitness complex, retail shops, and a 48-foot tall, 192 square-foot monitor overlooking Interstate 5. While tentative, the master plan also involves constructing new sewer outlets for RV’s, a fire station and paving what is now the dirt parking lot on the east end.

Some local politicians, businesspeople and environmental groups have voiced concerned about increased traffic, pollution, more competition, and damage to nearby ecological preserves.

“They kind of used the terms self-contained and self-sustaining,” said Solana Beach City Manager David Ott. “I agree with it, you don’t have a hotel there now so if you build a hotel it’s obviously taking away from a hotel in the surrounding area.”

In October, Solana Beach invested $75,000 for seven consultants to analyze the project’s potential impact. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, the 22nd DAA is required to respond adequately to all issues anyone raises within the public comment period.

Ott said regardless of the extension, the consultants would have been ready to present an “extensive” document of findings by the original deadline.

Pamela Epstein, an attorney representing the San Diego Sierra Club, said her clients are especially worried about surrounding wetlands that are home to many endangered species.

“People get lost in the idea of what truly is an environmental impact,” she said, adding it is important to go beyond minimal standards. “We want to do all that we can to protect, restore and conserve vital and natural resources. It’s imperative, at the fairgrounds, to save every inch of what could be ancient wetlands.”

However, the project’s mission statement makes a commitment to environmentally responsible construction. Also, a 2008 study by a consulting firm hired by the Del Mar Village Association found the expansion has the potential to positively impact the local economy.

“The reality of it is they’re trying to create scare tactics,” Fennell said. “This property belongs to the people of San Diego County and it’s a wonderful resource, a wonderful asset and we are very environmentally conscientious. We go to great lengths to make sure we exceed all the requirements, are good stewards of the property and if someone tells you otherwise, I’d tell you that’s inaccurate.”

Citizens now have until Feb. 8 to submit their comments in writing. Law requires the 22nd District Agricultural Board to respond before moving forward. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2011 and be completed by 2014. For more information, go to www.sdfair.com and click the link for the master plan.

Related posts:

  1. Fairgrounds plans available for review
  2. Del Mar Fairgrounds clarifies furlough confusion
  3. Fair board doubles plan review time; Draft EIR for fairgrounds Master Plan released
  4. Fairgrounds’ top executive may get 29 percent pay increase
  5. DM Fairgrounds budget includes belt-tightening

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