By Claire Harlin
As Del Mar city officials near finalization of the Village Specific Plan that will be up for a vote of Del Mar residents in November, they presented feedback from the city’s Planning Commission on July 18 and accepted a list of modifications suggested by the commission. The City Council will consider adopting the final draft of the development plan on Aug. 6.
At its July 10 meeting, the Planning Commission presented a number of concerns about the plan involving issues from noise pollution to parking. They said there should be better noise protection measures, such as limiting outdoor dining to only Camino del Mar. Commissioners also described decreasing Camino del Mar to two lanes and installing roundabouts a “fatal flaw” and compared the plan’s park-once methodology to the taking of private property. Under this concept, which has been controversial, the public would be encouraged to park on private lots for access to any business, eliminating the “reserved” designation for on-site parking.
The Planning Commission also spoke to the plan’s potential for a highly successful downtown Village, and stressed the importance of threshold (milestone dates) to allow change to happen with continued review. One of the commission’s modifications to the plan accepted by the Del Mar council affirms 10-year threshold intervals, with the Planning Commission being the first review.
Another modification of the commission is to add a fifth roundabout at the signal north of 15th Street at the Del Mar Plaza entrance. Planning and Community Development Director Kathy Garcia said this is a component of the plan that will be explored further when the city gets into the design phase of the process, because right now the city has only done a conceptual study.
“It will all be a public process that will be looked at very carefully,” she said.
Another modification accepted by the city is to make clear in the ballot language that “the success of roundabouts will not be fully realized until a full scope of improvements both north and south of the Village is complete.”
While it will most likely take decades for the city to reach its maximum development capacity as outlined in the plan, that was a major part of the council’s most recent discussion. As suggested by the commission, the council agreed on decreasing the capacity from 600,000 to 500,000 square feet.
“We are compromising with what the community wants and I’ve been hearing that 600,000 is too big,” said Councilwoman Lee Haydu.
Another modification suggested by the commission was the consideration of lane separation or a median along Camino del Mar.
Longtime Del Mar resident Bud Emerson, who has been highly involved in the drafting process, said he supports the plan, but he would like to see more compromises on the table.
“This is a leadership moment for you to recognize there is significant fear in the community,” Emerson said, addressing the council. “You’ve finally gotten everybody’s attention in town and people are afraid.”
He said making more alternatives in relation to building height and construction phasing might be a step in the direction of satisfying some who are opposed to the plan. He suggested starting development in the area between 13th and 15th streets, and then waiting for five years to see how the community responds to it. He also proposed temporary roundabouts to test their functionality.
“I’m asking you, as leaders, to reach out to the parts of the community that are really upset about it,” he said.
Councilman Mark Filanc agreed that the negative impact on business from contraction in Bird Rock, a La Jolla community that has undergone similar revitalizations efforts and installed roundabouts, is a red flag for some. He said construction took two years there.
“In Del Mar we can do a good job, but is there anything else we can do during the construction phase and until we get more parking?” he said.
Filanc suggested servicing the downtown area with a shuttle during construction to mitigate the loss of parking and keep people from having to walk several blocks to their destination.
The council also expressed a need for a city-wide parking management plan. City Manager Scott Huth pointed out that a 200-space parking structure (or structures) is currently part of the draft Village Specific Plan.
Filanc said the plan should include a measure that states once a certain square footage of development is reached, a specified parking requirement must be met as well.
“We can’t let development go unchecked without having an appropriate parking supply,” he said.
On Aug. 6, the city will present an executive summary to be incorporated into the plan as part of its adoption hearing. That document is currently being prepared, and both the ballot language and a survey of public opinion are underway.
The city has held more than 20 meetings on the preparation of the draft Village Specific Plan, in addition to accepting written public input and hosting information tables for months at the Del Mar Farmers Market. To contact the city as it makes its final changes to the document, email email@example.com.