Del Mar voters have embraced Garden Del Mar in a big way.
Proposition G, calling for an OK for construction of the mixed-use office, retail and restaurant project planned for the site of what was the city's last remaining gas station, was approved in last Tuesday's election with 85 percent of the vote.
"We're very pleased," said the project's co-developer Bryn Stroyke. "I think the election results show that Del Mar voters support a revitalized, pedestrian-friendly downtown."
The ease of the measure's passage belied the amount of time - and money - spent on getting it to the ballot.
Proposition G was prompted by Measure B, a 20-year-old, voter-approved initiative that requires any new commercial construction project over 25,000 square feet to receive a specific plan and voter approval.
Under the microscope
Garden Del Mar was the focus of over two years of intensive examination.
Besides several stops at City Council, and at the city's Design Review Board and Planning Commission, the project was subjected to some 68 meetings of a steering committee that hashed out details, including public benefits required under Measure B.
The developers say they spent close to $1 million during the process.
Although thankful for the community work involved, Stroyke said in retrospect, the process could have been handled better.
"I think the (specific plan) process is not development-friendly," he said. "It adds so much to the cost of development, I think it gets in the way of the exceptional public benefits. There should be a way to streamline the process."
Dwight Worden, a member of the city's steering committee and someone who assisted in drafting the original Measure B, disagrees.
"Overall the process was very good," he said. "I think the proof is in the pudding of the election results."
Worden points to several unavoidable delays during the process, including the drafting of a complicated environmental impact report and a decision by the developers to change architects midstream. That resulted in a major redesign of the project. He said without that change, he is not sure the ballot measure would have been successful.
Working on details
Stroyke says although there is no set timeline as yet for starting construction, the day after the election he and co-developer Nick Schaar were working on financing details.
"We do have a construction lender we are talking to who is showing a lot of interest," he said, "and some other equity participants as well. So we're on the path to completion. But this is going to take awhile - it's not going to happen overnight."
Stroyke and Schaar have a large monetary stake in the project. The developers have an almost $2.3 million lien against the property. On Oct. 31, the city joined in that lien when they signed an $85,000 promissory note with the developers to ensure payments on some back and future bills associated with the project's environmental process.
"It just provides further assurance to the city," said City Manager Karen Brust. "They (developers) have been very forthright in their commitment to pay this."
Economy a challenge
Stroyke says he is confident there will be no problems in funding the project but acknowledges he does have some worries about current economic conditions.
"On one hand I'm very concerned with the economy," he said, "but on the other hand there is a lot of benefit to starting a project on a down cycle. If you are starting on a downturn, you are almost guaranteed of completing on an upturn."
Stroyke said in the meantime he would relish the success of Proposition G.
"(Political consultant Tom Shepard) told me he can't remember anything in San Diego ever passing with 85 percent of the vote," Stroyke said. "That was a big margin."