By Claire Harlin
Mitigating the effects of outdoor dining that would be welcomed with Del Mar’s proposed revitalization concept was one of several topics to cross the table April 2 at the city’s first formal discussion dedicated the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Village Specific Plan.
The EIR is meant to examine a number of alternatives and potential impacts — such as noise, traffic and aesthetics — of the revitalization plan, which aims to steer city development and land use toward a more pedestrian-friendly, vibrant downtown Del Mar. The plan includes features such as two-lane traffic with roundabouts, increased building height and expanded sidewalks with more outdoor dining. The public comment period for the EIR runs through May 4, and input from community members can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the case of outdoor dining, City Manager Scott Huth pointed to the possibility of restaurant activity causing noise issues at night — a concern shared by some residents at the workshop. He said city officials have looked into a “special-use or conditional-use permit that would restrict restaurant activity at night, knowing that noise in residential areas drops off significantly at night.”
“We need to put measures in place as part of the process instead of dealing with them later,” Huth said, adding that reducing business operation times could be a solution to mitigate noise impact.
The EIR examined noise caused by traffic, however, it did not take into account noise caused by people, one resident pointed out. Del Mar City Councilman Mark Filanc said noise impact needs to be examined from an engineering standpoint, and city consultant Bobbi Herdes agreed that is an additional calculation that can be made.
“Let’s say you add another three or four more restaurants,” Filanc said. “Is that going to add more noise to nearby residents? I don’t think from an engineering standpoint it will, but it needs to be examined.”
Resident Bill Michalsky said businesses must be closed instead of open-air.
Herdes, who collaborated on the EIR under Recon Environmental Inc., presented findings of the report, which for the most part favored the Village Specific Plan. In fact, it concluded that sticking to the status quo in Del Mar would actually produce negative impacts.
The “do-nothing impact,” she said, would have a negative impact primarily because the infrastructure wouldn’t be able to deal with excess traffic volumes, which is estimated to reach more than 25,000 vehicles a day. Keeping four lanes in the downtown area would only be able to support 15,500 cars per day, whereas decreasing the street to two lanes with roundabouts would support 25,000 cars per day. Adding signals to the current four lanes would support 30,000 vehicles, however, that would not provide the space to expand sidewalks.
Herdes brought up the issue of cultural resources and historical preservation, adding that consultants are working with the city to formulate a measure that would require historical evaluation for buildings more than 45 years old. There are two historic properties in Del Mar — the Del Mar Library and Stratford Square — that would be protected under the current historic preservation ordinance.
As far as biblical resources, Herdes said the only impact would be the removal of trees.
The Village Specific Plan offers more benefits than any of the alternatives, and has minimal negative impacts because it is “self-mitigating,” Herdes said
“[The plan] offers strategies ensured by future discretionary review,” she said.
Resident Mark Stuckelman questioned why the EIR states air pollution will double because of the Village Specific Plan, asking why that was not considered a negative impact.
Herdes said certain thresholds were used in determining whether that change would be significant, and consultants concluded that “when you increase the intensity of use, mobile emissions will double.” This refers to the increased flow of traffic the EIR states will take place with the addition of roundabouts.
Resident Richard Simons said changing the height limit on the west side of Camino Del Mar is like messing with “sacred territory.” He said he remembers when the council first wrote the Village Plan, and a lady once stood up at a meeting and said the height limit should be maintained in order to save the character of the city.
“At that time, the council said it was a no-brainer,” said Simons. “It’s not about view blockage. It’s about changing the fundamental character of this town for the worse.”
Councilman Don Mosier said he appreciates the feedback from the community, but he would like to hear more solutions.
“We heard a lot of positive feedback about mixed-use housing and second floor apartments,” he said. “But if we are going to do that and you still want to preserve the 14-foot height limit on the west side of Camino Del Mar, then what’s the solution?”
He posed the question: Are there places that would have bigger impacts than others along the west side of the street?
“If you have those types of solutions, let’s get the solutions out there as well as the questions,” he said.
Filance agreed, adding that the council is not seeking to dictate the future of downtown Del Mar.
“This is the council receiving input and molding it into what the city and community wants,” he said.
There will be a question-and-answer session on April 11 at 2 p.m. in the City Hall Annex. The event is open to the public.