By Joe Tash
A recently formed volunteer group wants to serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Del Mar, in hope that the effort will finally take root after decades of stalled attempts.
Friends for Village Revitalization has been meeting informally for several months, and is now going public with its mission: to get out the word about the city’s renewed efforts to create a vibrant, walkable town center.
“We want to make something happen this time,” said Howard Gad, a member of the friends group. “Whatever that something is we don’t know yet. If the downtown continues to deteriorate, it not only affects sales tax… it’s a matter of pride. When I come into town from the south, I’d like to have it look like something, aesthetically.”
“We’re not here to come up with the vision. We’re here to catalyze the process,” said Linda Rock, a longtime Del Mar resident who owns an office building in the commercial zone with her husband. “If decision-makers see strong, broad interest to make this happen, they will move it forward.”
Some members of the new group, such as Gad, served on the Form Based Code Committee, which was set up by the city to study potential changes to Del Mar’s zoning laws to encourage redevelopment of the downtown commercial district, which runs along Camino Del Mar from 15th Street in the north to 9th Street in the south.
Others, such as Rock, belong to the Del Mar Village Association.
The friends group plans to work with the city as it moves forward with efforts to revitalize downtown. The city’s initiative has three central goals, according to Del Mar Mayor Don Mosier: making the village more pedestrian friendly, encouraging business development and establishing mixed-use buildings with retail on the ground floor and residential units above. All three efforts will help make the downtown more vibrant, he said, and improve its economic viability.
Among the measures needed to improve walkability, he said, are widening sidewalks along the entire commercial district, improving pedestrian crossings and lighting, and installing features such as benches and landscaping to make the area more attractive.
The guiding principles of what the city is trying to achieve were contained in the city’s 1976 community plan. Despite numerous studies, surveys and other efforts over the years, said Mosier, the plan was never fully executed.
“The city has failed to implement much of the community plan, I think through not being willing to take the big step of financing it and getting the whole downtown arrayed into one specific plan,” Mosier said. “We have been making small steps forward. But this would be a big step forward.”
What the council now has in mind, said Mosier, is drafting a specific plan for downtown that would go before city voters in November 2012. If the measure passes, the next step would be a vote on a bond issue to pay for the improvements, which could include a new City Hall at the south end of town, with a parking structure to increase the number of parking spaces available to visitors and residents.