By Claire Harlin
Wider sidewalks, two-lane roundabouts and an increased height limit were among ideas that garnered overwhelming support at a Del Mar Village revitalization workshop held on Oct. 20.
The purpose of the event, which more than 80 people attended, was to get suggestions and answer questions about revitalization, which will extend six blocks along Camino del Mar from Ninth to 15th Streets. Planning and Community Development Director Kathleen Garza also staffed an outreach booth at the Del Mar Taste and Art Stroll event on Oct. 2, and Del Mar City officials are calling for more continued public input. The revitalization plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of next summer and go to public vote in November 2012.
Four council members were present at the workshop and community members sat at circular tables, each headed by a Del Mar staff member. Garza opened the workshop by explaining the process and goals of revitalization, and led attendees through a number of topics, including traffic lanes, parking, sidewalks, floor area ratio and building height.
“This isn’t the end all,” she said. “This is just be beginning.”
Garza said city staff has “taken great pains” to stay consistent with the Del Mar Community Plan that was written in 1976, which outlined maintenance of Village character, commercial-residential mixed use of space and alternative transportation options, among other themes.
She pointed out that 49 percent of leased space in downtown Del Mar belongs to offices, 16 percent to retail, 13 percent to restaurants and one percent to housing. The city is seeking input on how to add housing, which city planner Matt Bator said could include units that aren’t large and high-end, and cater to students or part-time residents.
Councilman Terry Sinnott said city staff wants to keep with the “smart growth concept,” which concentrates growth in compact, walkable, urban centers to avoid sprawl, decrease use of cars and advocate bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly use of space.
Planners and city staff have pointed to both Encinitas and Bird Rock as good examples of revitalization — Encinitas for its parking, traffic and walkability, and Bird Rock for its successful implementation of roundabouts.
In regard to parking, Bator said planners are trying to cater not only to short-term drivers, patrons who quickly visit shops, but also to long-term drivers like employees of local businesses. City planners are working toward making parking more regular and continuous. There are currently a number of types of parking spots, including diagonal, parallel and town-and-country, which means half of the space is on public property and half is on private property. Some businesses allow parking in their front yard, which some say congests sidewalks.
Parking was a more contentious issue presented at the workshop, but was not discussed in detail because a parking study is underway by Del Mar’s Environmental Impact Report consultant. Options include use of permits, increased diagonal parking, on-street meters and incentives for private properties that provide parking.
Three options for traffic on Camino del Mar were presented, the most popular being a reduction from four to two lanes, with the addition of roundabouts. Other options include maintaining the current four-lane structure, or keeping two northbound lanes with a reduction to one lane going southbound.
A few attendees pointed out that if drivers find slowed traffic in Del Mar to be annoying, they may opt for the freeway, reducing the number of cars on Camino del Mar.
“What I’ve learned is that well-designed roundabouts give pedestrians an easy, safe way to get across the street because cars have to slow down,” Sinnott said.
Another idea presented for crossing at the 15th Street intersection is the “scramble” concept, which halts vehicles in all directions while pedestrians cross from all four corners at once.
Planning manager Adam Birnbaum said Bird Rock experiences a higher level of traffic than Del Mar, according to studies, and that community would be a good model for Del Mar as opposed to the roundabouts in Leucadia, which are not in a commercial corridor.
A highly expressed need for Del Mar Village is wide sidewalks that include a buffer between traffic and pedestrians, as well as an interface between parked vehicles and street furnishings. The Village’s sidewalks currently range from five to 14 feet, and are discontinuous and inconsistent from block to block.
Opinions were diverse in regard to floor area ratio (FAR), the total floor area of buildings in relation to the size of the land of that location. Attendees discussed whether there should be limit on FAR and, if so, what it should be.
Del Mar’s FAR is currently at 45 percent, while La Jolla is at 130 percent, the Cedros Design District is at 100 percent and Old Town is at 60 percent.
Some said it would benefit the community to lift FAR restrictions. Councilman Carl Hilliard said studies have shown FAR is what drives developers to “build a box.” To avoid this, an idea was presented that would allow an additional four feet on the height limit specifically for roof articulation that would add character and shape to buildings.
The height limit on Camino del Mar is currently 26 feet on the east side and 14 feet on the west side of the street, however, some businesses on the west side of the street are higher than 14 feet because that height limit was put in place after their construction. Because of this, some businesses have refrained from redeveloping to avoid losing floor space.
“That’s why many of them have not changed,” Garza said.
Bator said more density means more people and more commerce, but also it calls for more parking.
“It’s a complex puzzle,” he said, adding that FAR is like the “holy grail” of the community.
Each attendee turned in a questionnaire about topics discussed at the workshop and a summary of findings will be presented at a City Council meeting in November. Those unable to attend are encouraged to complete the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VillageSpecificPlan. More information can be found by visiting the city’s website or by emailing email@example.com.