Del Mar residents call for public vote on development projects


Del Mar community members could decide the fate of Watermark Del Mar, a proposed 48-unit multifamily complex, and other sizable development projects that come before the city in the future.

A group of citizens opposed to the project submitted a petition to the city on May 18 with more than enough signatures to qualify for a ballot measure in the November election.

Championed by Arnold Wiesel, who lives near the project site on the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive, the proposed measure asks if voter approval should be required before a permit is issued for proposed land developments in any commercial zone that are 25,000 square feet or larger, allow a density bonus or require a specific plan, a zoning code change or an increase of the building height limit, floor area ratio or lot coverage from that of the existing underlying zone.

“The right to vote is very important, especially to a community that loves its community,” Wiesel said.

Proposed by Watermark DM LP, a partnership between San Dieguito Land Partners and Kitchell, the Watermark includes 48 units that range from studios to three-bedrooms in one- and two-story buildings. The project also includes 108 parking spaces — 96 assigned stalls for the units and 12 guest stalls — in an underground structure, a pool and spa area and a recreation room.

The 2.3-acre lot is used for parking during special events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Because the land is currently zoned for commercial use, the lot would have to be rezoned as residential to move the project forward. A number of other changes and permits would also have to be approved by the city and California Coastal Commission.

To streamline the process, the council voted in July 2014 to allow the developer to use a specific plan. The specific plan process sets a special set of development standards for a specific geographical area, creates a land use designation and zone for the property, and requires opportunities for community participation throughout the process.

Although Watermark inspired the initiative, Wiesel said he and his group are looking beyond the proposed project.

“We’re safest with a community safeguard,” Wiesel said.

“This is not about Watermark,” he reiterated. “This is about projects of uncharacteristic huge density that destroy our values and the beauty of Del Mar. It’s about what could happen to the community if the community can’t be involved and have a say.”

The petition contained 505 signatures. Del Mar has about 2,855 registered voters. Therefore, 286 signatures, or 10 percent, are needed to qualify the measure for the upcoming general election. San Diego County Registrar of Voters is currently verifying the signatures.

“We had an overwhelming response,” Wiesel said. “It resonates so strong.”

If the Registrar of Voters determines that the petition has been signed by the required number of registered voters, the City Council can adopt the ordinance, submit it to the voters for consideration or call for a report.

“I hope that you folks will not only appreciate it, but champion the same cause,” Wiesel said to the council during the June 6 meeting. “They (residents) really want to believe that their government is really part of them. We all have this ability to be part of that. That would make our town even that much more beautiful.”

Because the city doesn’t know when the Registrar of Voters is going to certify the signatures, city staff recommended the council call for a report on the proposed initiative now.

“Our concern is that if they take the entire time period that they’re allotted, then your ability to call for a report at that time, and have it be beneficial to you and the public, is going to be really limited and hard to accomplish,” City Manager Scott Huth said.

In a 4-0 vote, the council on June 6 called for a report of the proposed initiative called, “Voter Approval for Certain Development Projects.” Councilman Dwight Worden was absent from the meeting.

“I respect Mr. Wiesel’s effort in moving this forward,” Councilman Al Corti said. “I’m glad that there’s that many people in the community that think it’s a worthwhile issue. I support the concept of a ballot issue, but at this point, I’m looking for a report to understand what the ramifications and the implications are to the entire community if this were to move forward, and then we can make a decision.”

Councilman Don Mosier said the report should answer some “big questions.”

If the measure were adopted, Mosier said it would make it “virtually impossible” for Del Mar to meet its state-certified housing element. Therefore, he said he would like an analysis of the consequences if the city were to fail to follow state law.

And because the measure is similar to Measure B, Moiser questioned how both would be implemented. A voter approved initiative, Measure B is a law that governs large developments in the downtown area.

“It’s inconsistent with Measure B,” he said. “One of them has to win.”