Replacing Bully’s in Del Mar will have deep impacts

Impacts from construction and truck access — both during construction and for deliveries once in operation — topped the concerns raised last week during Del Mar’s review of the hotly anticipated proposal by the nationally-renowned Hillstone Restaurant Group to demolish the iconic Bully’s North and replace it with an upscale restaurant twice Bully’s size.

Hillstone representatives and architects laid out their 5,200-square-foot vision to the city’s Design Review Board on Oct. 25 in a nearly two-hour session that touched on details ranging from building materials and parking requirements to noise impacts and lighting scheme. While preliminary designs have been circulating since last summer, last week’s hearing was the project’s first official review — and barring appeal, will be the only review before Hillstone can get underway.

Because of an error in erecting the story poles meant to depict the restaurant’s proposed dimensions, the hearing had to be continued to Nov. 15. The proposal would only go to the City Council if the DRB’s ruling is appealed, and is not subject to review by the California Coastal Commission.

If approvals proceed smoothly, Hillstone anticipates breaking ground in mid-2018, followed by 18 months of construction.

Bully’s North opened in 1969, two years after the original Bully’s opened in La Jolla and two years before a third Bully’s opened in Mission Valley. Escondido resident Beverly Yuhause-Becker took over all three in 1995 after the death of her father Lester Holt, who co-founded Bully’s with George Bullington.

Yuhause-Becker shut down the La Jolla restaurant in 2008 and began talks with Hillstone two years ago, eventually entering into a contract to sell the land pending the project’s approval.

Hillstone is a 40-year-old company based in Los Angeles that now owns and operates 48 restaurants across the country, the closest of which are in Orange County.

The Del Mar outpost is envisioned along the lines of the “R+D Kitchen” concept of their Santa Monica and Fashion Island restaurants. Its dining room will feature between 62 and 68 seats, with another 28 seats at the bar and 28 more seats in an outdoor patio looking onto Camino del Mar. The back half of the single-story restaurant will be mounted on posts above 28 parking spaces level with the alley that runs behind the site. Because Del Mar’s stringent parking code requires 82 parking spots in all, two stories of underground parking will hold another 54 parking spaces.

The proposal has evoked bittersweet feelings in Del Mar, on the one hand bringing the loss of a venerated landmark that in its half-century of serving steaks, seafood and cocktails has woven itself into Del Mar’s identity but has for more than a decade limped along, a shadow of its former glory. Demolishing Bully’s would make way for what will be downtown’s first new commercial building in more than 30 years and comes as the city embarks on a multiyear, multimillion-dollar plan to upgrade infrastructure and visitor amenities along Camino del Mar.

That ambivalence came to bear at the Oct. 25 hearing as neighboring property owners gushed over the proposal’s potential to inject new life into the lagging corridor, but also showed a trepidation about what promises to be significant impacts on a small space surrounded by retail space, restaurants, offices and homes along Stratford Court.

“It’s very aesthetic, it’s very elegant. One of the things that I think that they’re bringing to the area that we need is vibrancy. … Bringing something that is as high-end as what they’re doing to Del Mar is a really, really good thing and in some ways we need to celebrate that,” said Tricia Smith, who owns adjoining properties on Camino del Mar that hold nearly a dozen tenants. “Having said that, there are some concerns.”

She and several other neighbors said they worry most about the noise and structural risks of construction and the flow of heavy trucks and delivery vehicles that will access the site via Del Mar Lane, a 20-foot-wide alley onto which back numerous Camino del Mar businesses as well as a handful of homes.

Hillstone believes their design will not be too disruptive and will leave room for trucks to park on-site rather than in the alley — an assessment concurred by the project’s state-mandated environmental study. But no matter how well-mitigated, DRB members said, the project is certain to bear heavily on surrounding businesses and homes.

“Over 1,000 truckloads of dirt is going to be a big, big deal,” said DRB member Beth Levine.

The project’s state-mandated environmental study calls for an 8-foot-tall fence to dampen noise from construction. Beyond that, DRB members were at a loss for ways to improve the situation.

“Is there an easy way of mitigating construction? I don’t know of any,” said DRB member Bill Michalsky. “They have to be allowed to build these things. … There are only certain things we can really limit here if we expect a new structure to be put in place.”

Michalsky floated the possibility of barring construction on weekends. Several DRB members also said they would like Hillstone to create and adhere to a detailed operations plan, both for construction and once the restaurant opens, as the city required for the Viewpoint Brewery that opened this summer.

There also appeared to be consensus that the west-facing windows in the back of the restaurant ought to be fixed shut. Hillstone’s design calls for the windows facing Camino del Mar to be openable. Hillstone deliberately designed the restaurant to have only a few windows facing to the west, which they want to be able to open to improve air circulation.

“They’re using all hard materials inside of this restaurant. The decibel level is going to be very high,” said DRB member John Goodkind. “If their windows open, I think every house on the other side of the alley will hear it.”

The DRB is expected to issue its final ruling at the Nov. 15 meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. at Del Mar’s temporary city hall, 2010 Jimmy Durante Blvd.

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