Despite some resident concerns that an already parking-constrained city might become even more so by allowing more restaurant seating without a corresponding amount of parking, the Del Mar City Council has nonetheless approved loosening restrictions on outdoor cafes downtown.
The council approved the code amendment at their July 21 regular meeting by a 3-2 margin, with Mayor Dave Druker and Councilman Henry Abarbanel voting against.
One of several code amendments suggested by City Council liaisons Richard Earnest and Carl Hilliard designed to foster revitalization efforts in the downtown area, the code amendment is designed to accommodate and regulate sidewalk cafes by a process for installing outdoor seating in the public right-of-way while protecting public health and safety. It also includes a requirement for the restaurateur to pay a fee for the commercial use of public areas. The yet-to-be-determined fee collected by the city will be used for downtown streetscape improvements. The ordinance also includes a provision that the outdoor seating will be on a "shared-use" basis, meaning the seating could be used not only for restaurant customers, but the non-food ordering public at large. Because of that shared-use premise and because a sidewalk cafe would be an extension of an existing facility, the ordinance includes a provision that no additional off-street parking would be required. Something that did not sit well with several residents worried that parking and parking-seekers would spill over into residential streets.
"We don't have enough parking now to support restaurants," said resident Alice McNally.
Former mayor Jan McMillan whose home sits near the downtown area, called the notion of increasing restaurant seating without additional required parking, "a terrible idea."
"It is short-sighted and stupid," she said. "You know we have a little parking problem here. There simply isn't any."
Also to some, the shared-use aspect seemed little excuse for loosening current parking requirements for new or remodeled restaurants. Currently there are two restaurants in Del Mar that have outdoor seating. The Rendezvous restaurant on the street-side floor of the Del Mar Plaza did not require additional parking for its outdoor area mainly because of the Plaza's parking structure and its specific plan. The Americana restaurant at Camino del Mar and 15th Street also has a popular outdoor seating area. Its cafe area predates current codes and does not require additional parking. Unbeknown to many, the area is open to public seating regardless if someone is ordering food or not. A small sign at the restaurant indicates that. But speaker Brooke Eisenberg Pike said she doubted many took advantage of the rule.
"During a busy breakfast time at Americana," she said, "it would take a hardy soul to sit down the three friends and say, 'I'm not ordering.'
"I love outdoor dining," she added, "when it doesn't affect quality of life."
But there was support expressed for the new ordinance, especially from those anxious to give a jumpstart to revitalization efforts in the downtown business core.
Longtime Del Mar property owner and developer Jim Watkins who said he helped draft the city's general plan, said the plan's intent was always to encourage a vital downtown including sidewalk cafes. He also read a passage from the city's Streetscape plan, which encouraged outdoor dining as well.
"You've finally come forth with what the community has wanted all along," he said to the council.
Keith Nordling, owner of the popular restaurant/bar Jimmy O's, said improvements such as outdoor seating would only increase city sales tax revenues. "You are helping us help you," he said.
Deputy Mayor Crystal Crawford, who voted in favor of the ordinance, tried to allay resident fears somewhat by reminding the public speakers that under the new ordinance, any proposals for outdoor seating would be considered on a case-by-case basis with each proposal needing specific council approval - and additional public input.
"It doesn't mean every application will be granted," she said.
"There's a lot to take care of," said Hilliard of revitalization efforts. "I think we have to move forward with all deliberate speed and kick-off the things that will work. I think this is one of them."