By Joe Tash
George Conkwright stands on a second-floor patio at the corner of his commercial building in downtown Del Mar, showing off its coastal and ocean views to a visitor.
“It’s a fabulous space,” said Conkwright, which he believes would be perfect for outdoor dining, especially since he has remodeled the adjacent inside space to include a kitchen with hood and grease traps.
Conkwright said he has spent some $300,000 renovating two sections of his building at 1201 Camino Del Mar with an eye toward bringing in a new restaurant upstairs and an espresso or wine bar downstairs. But for now, both spaces stand empty as Conkwright wrangles with city officials over required parking for the proposed businesses.
Last year, Conkwright filed two lawsuits against the city, one challenging the city’s parking ordinance, and the other claiming inverse condemnation, alleging that the city’s actions have left him unable to rent portions of his building.
Current city regulations require restaurants to provide one parking space for every 90 square feet of indoor or outdoor dining space, or 11 spaces per 1,000 square feet.
In his lawsuits and an interview, Conkwright alleges that city officials are holding him to parking requirements that aren’t being imposed on other restaurants in town.
“I’ve got the best-parked building in this town,” he said. “It’s an impossible standard and they’ve waived it for everybody else.” His building has 48 spaces total in a rear parking lot and underground garage, he said. About half of the 10,000-square-foot building is occupied with offices and a restaurant undergoing renovations following a fire, he said.
Under current regulations, Conkwright would need 25 additional parking spaces to open both the upstairs restaurant and a downstairs wine bar, city officials said.
For its part, the city contends its parking rules are being enforced fairly and consistently. Kathy Garcia, director of planning and community development, and principal planner Adam Birnbaum said Del Mar is an older community with a number of businesses that predate current parking regulations, which were adopted in 1967 and updated in subsequent years.
If a restaurant was established before the parking regulations were enacted, Birnbaum said, it is allowed to continue its “non-conforming use” even if it changes ownership. The process, he said, is called “grandfathering,” and applies as long as the restaurant does not expand, or the use does not change from an office or retail store to a more intensive use such as a restaurant.
In the case of an expansion of a non-conforming restaurant, the current parking requirements would only apply to the expanded space, not the original restaurant, Birnbaum said.
“I think the key distinction here is we have a lot of older, non-conforming buildings and uses, but for new development that comes in we’re applying the same standards,” he said.
Conkwright, however, charges in his lawsuit that a number of restaurants that came in after the establishment of the parking requirements have been allowed to operate in spite of parking deficiencies.
In his lawsuit, he listed what he said are a number of examples, such as Zel’s, formerly Café Del Mar, 1247 Camino Del Mar, Crepes and Corks, 1328 Camino Del Mar, and Sbicca, 215 15th St.