By Claire Harlin
Matthew Bergman, owner of Folio Design, doesn’t live in Del Mar, but he said downtown Del Mar is like his living room — and he’s ready to see it get renovated.
“There will be immediate hardships, and the construction period is going to be a challenge,” said Bergman, comparing the city’s proposed streetscape improvements to the home interior overhauls he oversees at his Del Mar Plaza design business. “But the long-term improvements will be so much greater than that.”
The City of Del Mar is the closest it has been to implementing changes meant to reflect the community plan goals set forth in 1976, which outlined a need for a pedestrian-friendly, vibrant downtown. Revitalization is no new concept for Del Mar — parking, traffic and aesthetics have been much-discussed for years. But this month the city finally released its first draft of a Village Specific Plan, along with a corresponding Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and it’s headed for a community vote in November — but not before the community gets its say in the proposed changes, estimated to total between $4.5 and $5.5 million. The City Council will hear input on the EIR at its April 2 meeting, and there will be several opportunities for input thereafter, including question-and-answer sessions on April 4 and April 10, a full workshop on April 30 and a special business community meeting in mid-May.
Many owners of businesses along Camino Del Mar are more reluctant than Bergman, and there’s some concern that the interests of residents may not reflect the interests of business owners — many of whom will not get to vote on the Village Specific Plan if it makes it to the ballot as planned.
“If you don’t live in Del Mar, you don’t vote in Del Mar,” said Nicolo Becucci, owner of Crepes & Corks, located at 1328 Camino Del Mar. “A lot of us business owners don’t live in Del Mar and we want Del Mar to be more business-friendly, but the people who live in Del Mar don’t always like that.”
Becucci said the Del Mar City Council is good at being pro-business, but “as a whole, they are scared of bringing up new ideas because they are afraid of being shut down by the public.”
Becucci said all the ideas presented in the Village Specific Plan are good ones, however, a priority should be placed on parking.
“Adding a parking structure at Ninth Street would stretch out the entire town center,” he said. “Parking is the No. 1 complaint of customers. A parking garage would be the best money spent for tomorrow.”
Randy Gruber, owner of Americana Restaurant, located at 1454 Camino Del Mar, said he wants to see revitalization, but he’s not sold on the concept of roundabouts.
“All these other towns around us didn’t put in roundabouts,” he said, using Encinitas as an example of a city that has done a great job of enticing new business and upgrading its commercial center. “They fixed the sidewalks and the storefronts and it’s rocking over there.”
Most importantly, Gruber said he is concerned that the construction will hurt businesses like his that depend on people being able to pass through or walk around the town and have easy access to stores and restaurants.
Del Mar Planning and Community Development Director Kathy Garcia said there is no way at this point to estimate how long construction would take, but there are numerous ways to mitigate the effects of construction, including staging the work at different times of the day and doing only half of the street at a time.
“We could build the sidewalks first and keep them open so people can still access the shops,” she said, adding that weekly meetings with business owners before and during the construction would be effective.
“We also know we won’t be able to work in the summertime,” she said. “It’s just too busy here then.”
Julie Zozaya, owner of Julie’s Beach Wear, located at 1414 Camino Del Mar, said she would like to see features like plants, trash cans and benches, but she doesn’t want to see the city spend money to “rip up what we have and start over.”
“Roundabouts aren’t going to help with traffic,” she said. “They are just going to take away money we’ve already spent on putting in new sidewalks and a median. Are we just going to rip up all that and put in something we don’t need?”
She said she’d rather see money spent on advertising, similar to the commercials for Carlsbad and La Jolla she often sees on the Travel Channel at night.
There is about a month remaining in the public comment period on the Village Specific Plan and the EIR, which will be discussed at City Council on April 2. The EIR outlines potential impacts of and alternatives to the changes proposed in the Village Specific Plan. It is also a major factor in the decision-making of the City Council.
“It’s time for people to ask questions,” said Garcia. “The plan is on the street and they can read through it … A lot of people have questions because it’s a very technical document.”
To access these documents, visit www.delmar.ca.us and click the Village Specific Plan and EIR link on the right side of the page. Upcoming question-and-answer sessions will be held in the City Hall Annex on April 4 from 4 to 6 p.m. and on April 10 from 2 to 4 p.m.