Garden Del Mar now set for ballot inclusion

Cooler heads prevail after weeklong controversy

After a week filled with uncertainty over the fate of The Garden Del Mar, the mixed-use development project slated for the site of a former gas station in Del Mar, The Del Mar City Council has granted several key approvals paving the way for the project to be included on this November's ballot. The approvals, including the project's specific plan and accompanying exceptional public benefits were made at a special council meeting held July 28. Several other final approvals including certification of the project's environmental impact report are expected at the council's Aug. 4 regular meeting just four days before a final deadline for inclusion on the ballot.

The Monday approvals were a stark contrast to events of the past week. After a contentious Del Mar City Council meeting on July 21, and a subsequent e-mail letter from co-developer Bryn Stroyke that indicated the project - in the works for almost two years - was being shelved, questions have swirled over the fate of the project.

"It is with great sadness that I must tell you that The Garden Del Mar project will not be moving forward," stated Stroyke in his e-mail of July 22.

The letter, sent to City Council members and members of a city steering committee the morning after the July 22 meeting, expressed displeasure with several committee members who spoke during the meeting's public input portion.

Stroyke's displeasure centered on so-called "exceptional public benefits" associated with the project's approval process. The benefits, or "EPB," as they are often referred to, are required under requirements of Measure B, a voter-approved measure that requires construction projects on lots over 25,000 square feet receive numerous approvals including ballot approval from Del Mar residents. One stipulation of Measure B concerns public benefits granted to the city in return for an allowance for the developers to build a project over the normal floor area ratio. The exceptional public benefits, proposed by a council subcommittee made up of Mayor Dave Druker and Councilman Richard Earnest, were met with a degree of negativity by several members of the steering committee. The committee had met over 60 times to vet the project and among other tasks, recommend proposed EPBs.

One of the benefits had the city participating in a pay parking program in the development's underground garage and involved a monetary payment by the developers of $125,000 spread over a five-year period.

At July 21 council meeting, several steering committee members thought that payment should be in the $250,000 range, twice the amount that Druker and Earnest had suggested.

"A $250,000 upfront commitment would be preferred," said steering committee member Art Olson. "In my personal view, the city of Del Mar is getting short-changed and the developers let off the hook."

Stroyke said he and co-developer Nick Schaar could not afford that larger amount and without a consensus of support, especially from steering committee members, worried that the project would not be successful at the ballot box. Stroyke said he and Schaar had been "blindsided."

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