By Claire Harlin
The Del Mar City Council on Aug. 6 gave its final approval of a revitalization plan that has not only been in the works for decades, but could dictate the next decades of development and drastically change the Village if it is approved by Del Mar voters in November.
The unanimous approval and decision to place the Village Specific Plan on the general election ballot brings to a head an effort that has collectively cost the city more than $1 million over the years and has been the topic of dozens of civic meetings and public outreach events held by officials. The Aug. 6 meeting wasn’t the first time Del Mar residents packed council chambers and deliberated for more than three hours on the issue.
Opposition to the plan lingers despite an intricate and interactive drafting process, which involved making significant tweaks to the draft plan since its release in March. City staff reduced the total development threshold in the Village from 600,000 to 500,000 square feet, and they also took the roundabout proposed for 15th Street out of the project description, as directed by the council on July 30.
To eliminate contention regarding building height, officials also chopped 4 feet — originally designated for roof articulation meant to add character — off of the proposed limit, raising it from 16 to 26 feet on the west side of Camino del Mar.
“This is an extremely good plan,” said Terry Sinnott, who had been urging the council to postpone the vote to gain more pubic support. On July 30, a research firm hired by the city presented a survey that revealed only half of Del Mar voters favor the plan.
“I don’t want to end up with a split community,” Sinnott said. “For the people who are concerned about the plan, I would just encourage you to have a little faith … in the people representing the community. I am sure that if this is approved we are going to take those concerns to heart and implement it in a way that’s the best for the community.”
Most opposition to the plan surrounds the addition of roundabouts and the decrease from four to two lanes on Camino del Mar. Opponents say the roundabouts will confuse drivers and increase cut-through traffic in Del Mar’s residential neighborhoods. Businesses also fear construction on the Village’s thoroughfare will be overwhelming and cause grave economic harm.
Supporters say the plan follows through with the vision of the Del Mar Community Plan, which was adopted in 1976 and amended in 1985. That plan encouraged “a pedestrian-oriented, non-motorized community by developing a system of bicycle rights-of-way and pedestrian paths, and discouraging high-speed traffic along city streets.” It also suggested redesigning Camino del Mar to “accommodate low-speed vehicular traffic,” and officials believe the roundabouts achieve this.
Another priority of the Village Specific Plan — that was also a priority in 1976 — is renovating sidewalks along Camino del Mar to make them continuous.
The City Council has heightened the priority of another major element of the revitalization plan — adding a public parking structure on the site of City Hall. Planning and Community Development Director Kathy Garcia said the parking structure has been “moved up to short-term action,” and if the plan is approved by voters in November the city would be able to begin studies on that new construction immediately.
Several community members, including resident and business owner Fred Glassman, said they would like to see the city put in the welcomed parking structure before building the controversial roundabouts.
Susan Baldwin, a planner with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), praised the Village Specific Plan, saying it is in tune the “smart growth” concept that theoretically lessens sprawl by concentrating growth in compact, walkable centers. She said the plan will promote a more sustainable region and, if adopted, would make Del Mar eligible for more grant money.
But residents like Blake Bowling, who’s lived in the city for 28 years, say they love Del Mar just the way it is.
“I’m shocked that citizens are for this,” said Bowling, who has been involved in a number of local building projects. “Do we want to be another Encinitas? Del Mar is a quaint little town, similar to Carmel. Let’s try to keep it that way.”
To read the full text of the Village Specific Plan, visit www.delmar.ca.us.