Concerns about traffic, architecture greet new Del Mar city hall design plans

With plans for Del Mar’s new civic center now in the design development phase, project architects on Aug. 26 presented the early plans to the city’s Design Review Board.

Located on the site of the city’s facilities at 1050 Camino del Mar, the proposed project includes a 9,250-square-foot city hall in the middle of the site slightly to the south, a 3,200-square-foot multipurpose town hall in the southeast corner, and a 15,000-square-foot plaza fronting Camino del Mar.

The town hall would accommodate council chambers, community meeting space and Del Mar TV studios. City hall and the town hall would be connected by a weather-protected glass breezeway with large pivoting doors.

The plan features a 4,500-square-foot public overlook in the northwest corner of the lot and a total of 11,700 square feet of open space available for future expansion. The plan also includes a two-level underground parking garage on a third of the site, with surface parking on another third of the site for about 160 parking spaces.

In previous presentations to the council, and again, in the presentation to the board, Mike Jobes, principal with The Miller Hull Partnership, emphasized that the designs would include wooden buildings with lots of windows, such as “wooden lattice work” on the north-facing wall of the town hall. Structures would feature wooden ceilings and tresses, including inside town hall, taking a cue from other buildings in the community.

After seeing the latest plans, community members shared concerns about the project’s direction, including the placement of structures, public and private views, and the character of the project, from bulk and mass to materials.

Longtime Del Mar resident and developer Jim Watkins, who early on submitted plans for the project, along with his daughter, Kit Leeger, was among a few speakers who addressed the contemporary aesthetic design for the complex.

“Most of the work, I think, is very well done,” said Watkins, who thanked Jobes for his work on the final site plan and parking proposal.

With concerns about aesthetics, however, Watkins pointed to L’Auberge Del Mar, which he designed, as an example of a project that reflected the city’s character and charm.

“The design is ageless,” he said. “It is now almost 30 years old, and yet, in 50 years from now, it will have the same appeal.

“We have so many wonderful, charming structures here in Del Mar that are the essence of Del Mar,” he added, noting the Del Mar Library, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Powerhouse Community Center and Stratford Square, among other examples.

“These buildings, and many, many more in Del Mar, represent the heritage of our community, the charm, the small village atmosphere. I think it’s important that we preserve that.”

Leeger agreed, echoing her father’s comments and pointing to other details of the design.

She said the proposed plaza would be too small for community events, such as the farmers market, particularly after the site is further developed. She also suggested “better permeable material choices” for the surface of the plaza, rather than the proposed decomposed granite. And she noted that while the design team stated the project would complement other buildings in the community, the current designs do not.

“None of what I’ve seen is unfixable,” she said. “We look forward to a second go-around from the architects with these community concerns in mind.”

“It’s not what a lot of folks thought it would be,” agreed resident Greg Rothman. “I encourage the architect to go back and look at those examples.”

Another local resident and architect, however, said that the project should not replicate other buildings in the community.

“I feel that, yes, we have to respect our past and respect Del Mar for what it is, but I would not want to copy it. I would not want to repeat it,” Dean Meredith said. “I believe the new architecture that’s going to be created here needs to blend old with new. We need to be progressive and show that to the community, show that to the West Coast.”

“We are all drawn to the charm and small-town feel, yet we live in a sophisticated, desirable part of Southern California, and I believe we can achieve that balance without frowning upon progress, which is inevitable, and I believe should happen to sustain Del Mar,” agreed his wife, Monica Meredith.

Some residents expressed concerns about traffic, parking and privacy.

Board member Rick Ehrenfeld, who lives next to the site and recused himself from the issue, addressed the board as a private citizen.

“I’ve had a perfect neighbor for the last 30 years,” he said. “This TV station, it’s not beautiful, but it’s a big wall that gives me privacy.”

Now that the site plan has the parking near his property, Ehrenfeld said he is concerned about air, light and sound pollution. He suggested the west-facing side of the structure, which appears open, be enclosed or a wall be built to preserve privacy.

While in favor of most of the plans, Suren Dutia, a homeowner whose property is located across from the site, said he is concerned about parking.

“I know that this is a major traffic artery,” said Dutia, who has lived in the community for about 25 years.

He believes that the proposed parking scheme would increase traffic and potentially increase accidents.

“I’ve seen enough pretty close calls,” he said.

Resident Ivan Gayler agreed.

“Circulation on and off site is really, really important here,” said Gayler, who has also had a career as a local developer. “If we want this end of town to work, we need to get traffic onto the site and off the site, back across the street over to the other uses. That connection needs to be studied and planned for very carefully, I think.”

The plans propose traffic entering the parking structure through a one-way opening off 10th Street. The traffic would exit onto 11th Street.

Traffic engineers are reviewing the plans, with their report expected mid-September, Jobes said.

After hearing the public’s comments, board members shared their thoughts.

“To me, it looks very industrial,” said board member Bill Michalsky, who suggested the architect revisit the flat building roofs. “All we’re seeing today is a couple boxes, a couple big rectangles.”

“This is a tough challenge,” he added about the overall aesthetics. “I agree that Del Mar’s got a lot of interesting style. I’m not thinking we should mimic the hotel or other buildings, but I think this just needs some softening. It’s somewhat cold to me — the appearance of the structure.”

He also agreed the architect needs to adjust the parking and consider potential impacts to the local neighborhood.

“I think this is a good starting point,” he said. “I think it’s quite challenging for the architects to deliver everything for all of us.”

The Design Review Board did not take any formal action at the meeting, as it was intended to gather feedback from board and community members. The board is expected to formally consider the project at a later date, tentatively scheduled for the Nov. 18 meeting.