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.
Mosier said the Friends for Village Revitalization can play a role in the effort to transform Del Mar’s downtown.
“This is all about implementation of the long delayed community plan. Any group that wants to help us with implementation is welcome,” Mosier said. “It’s time to start making the plans to implement this and get on with it, rather than a very long-term discussion about what the problems are.”
Al Corti, who was also a member of the Form Based Code Committee, said the friends group is in its infancy, but has already compiled a list of 70 to 80 supporters of the goal of moving forward with revitalization.
The group plans to launch a website and get the word out in a variety of ways, from organizing meetings, writing position papers and an ongoing informational column in this newspaper, to speaking at community groups such as Rotary or Garden Club.
In the past, he said, something has always come up to push revitalization off the front burner; from debates over Powerhouse Park and the Shores property to the city’s bid to buy the Del Mar fairgrounds. While those issues are important, he said, downtown revitalization “should get equal priority.”
“Our effort is to get the information on the table so the community is aware of it,” Corti said.
One obstacle to rejuvenating Del Mar’s commercial area is the city’s current zoning code, said Gad. As written, the laws provide a “disincentive” to property owners, because of their restrictive parking requirements and other provisions.
“Without changes (to the law), if they do much rehabbing, they have to bring everything up to code and they actually lose square footage,” Gad said.
“The only part of downtown that’s really up to speed is around 15th Street,” Gad said. South of there, he said, “ Gravity and termites are winning in a lot of those buildings.”
“The time is ripe,” for energizing Del Mar’s downtown, while at the same time making it more walkable and less focused on vehicle traffic, said Rock. “I just want to see downtown become all that it can be.”
Once the area is revitalized, she said, “We’ll just be thinking, why the heck didn’t we do this 20 years ago?”
For more information about the Friends for Village Revitalization, contact the Del Mar Village Association at 858-755-1179, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The founding members of the Friends for Village Revitalization are Al Corti, Howard Gad, Nancy Sanquist, Linda Rock, Kelly Kaplan and Jen Grove.