Workshop yields ‘split decision’ on elements of Del Mar city hall proposal

Del Mar City Hall
(Kristina Houck)

Although there was clear consensus on some project details, community members who attended a workshop Oct. 29 were split on whether Del Mar should construct a basic city hall or a multipurpose civic center.

After discussing four concepts that could replace the deteriorating city hall at 1050 Camino del Mar, residents eliminated two options.

“I was hoping we’d have a winner, but we have a split decision between a development with lots of elements and a simple alternative,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “But we eliminated two, so that’s progress.”

Eight options were presented to the council in recent weeks, with council members selecting three concepts to share at the workshop. The city’s three alternatives all feature a 9,250-square-foot city hall, a 3,200-square-foot town hall, a 15,000-square-foot plaza and the required 51 parking spaces.

The “basic” option, which has no commercial or residential uses, provides 109 additional parking stalls at an estimated cost of $12.4 million.

The second option includes 3,400 square feet of commercial space and 71 surplus parking spaces for an estimated $13.5 million in development costs. An estimated $2.1 million in potential revenue from the commercial space cuts the net costs to $11.4 million.

The final option also features 3,400 square feet of commercial space, but includes four single-family homes available for purchase and has 115 extra parking stalls. Developing the project would cost an estimated $17.1 million, but an estimated $6.4 million in potential revenue from the commercial space and residential land value reduces the cost to $10.7 million.

Besides the three options from Keyser Marston Associates, a real estate advisory firm hired by the city, locals Jim Watkins and Kit Leeger presented a fourth concept they created at no cost to the city.

The concept by the father-daughter duo proposes a smaller city hall and slightly larger town hall at 8,450 square feet and 3,788 square feet, respectively. The plan features a 25,000-square-foot plaza intended for the Del Mar Farmers Market and other social and cultural events.

Estimated at $14.2 million in development costs, which is reduced to $9.5 million after potential revenue, their concept also includes much more commercial space at 9,250 square feet, six townhomes and 168 parking spaces, 140 of which are required.

“We’re simply volunteers,” Watkins said. “We have nothing to gain except the satisfaction of seeing a brand- new city hall, which we need, and a civic center we could all be proud of.”

After hearing the presentations, workshop attendees discussed the pros and cons of each concept at six tables in the Del Mar Communications Center, the television studio where council meetings are held. With more than 60 community members, city staff and council members packed into the council chambers, another dozen people formed a seventh group down the hall.

After about a half hour of discussion, attendees placed green sticky dots on one of four display boards to vote for their preferred concept. Twenty-one people voted for the basic option, two people voted for the second option and no one voted for the third option from the city. The Leeger/Watkins proposal received 26 votes.

With no one voting for the option that included four for-sale homes, community members clearly indicated they do not want to sell city property. Attendees were divided, however, on whether the city hall and civic center should include commercial and residential space.

The basic option is the only concept that will not trigger Measure B, a voter-approved initiative that governs large downtown developments. Going through the Measure B process could add $1 million in costs and extend the project by 18 months or longer, prompting some to argue for the basic option, which would allow for further development in the future.

Some attendees, however, rejected all four alternatives. Fifteen people voted for the basic option with the caveat that it feature fewer parking spaces.

Former Mayor Dave Druker read a letter he submitted to the council and other community members Oct. 26, to which he noted about 30 people responded in favor of his comments. He argued the property should be developed with only a city hall, council chambers and television studio, and a place for the Del Mar Farmers Market.

“We reject the concept of a mixed-use project because it is based upon visions that have little basis in the current reality of Del Mar,” said Druker, adding that residents now have access to Westfield UTC, Flower Hill Promenade, stores across Via de la Valle, and shopping centers in Carmel Valley, Solana Beach and Encinitas.

“Del Mar can no longer sustain a hardware store, a pharmacy and a grocery store, as we have so many better alternatives within a few miles.”

Druker added that the project should include only “adequate parking” for city hall functions, rather than “unneeded parking.”

“We believe that we should develop our property — the city hall site — based upon what is needed, not what can be done,” said Druker, who also argued that the council should have created an advisory committee so citizens could guide the city hall planning process.

In response to Druker’s comments, Councilwoman Sherryl Parks maintained that the city has actively engaged the community in the planning process.

Del Mar initiated the city hall planning process in June 2013. Since then, Parks noted, the council has discussed the project at 19 council meetings, issued a citywide survey and held three public workshops.

Rather than establish an advisory committee, the council opted to set aside time at council meetings for community input on the project.

“To be told that we didn’t open it up for diverse statement from the community is, quite frankly, not true,” she said.

Mayor Lee Haydu reminded attendees that the council would continue to hold open forums starting at 6:30 p.m. at council meetings, so the public could have the opportunity to share thoughts on the project. She and her fellow council members encouraged residents to stay involved in the process.

“I want to really thank everybody for coming out,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “It is this kind of involvement that makes our community really special.

“This is an opportunity the city needs to take. This is an opportunity we’ve missed in the past. We want to do the right thing for the community. It is definitely needed.”

It was never the city’s plan to permanently remain in the former schoolhouse. In fact, city officials began planning for a new city hall shortly after purchasing the old St. James Academy property in 1975. Originally built in the 1920s and expanded in 1956, the two school buildings remain in much the same condition, with 40 percent of city hall unusable because of safety concerns.

“Well, 39 years later, we’ve been occupying the premises and it hasn’t really fit the needs of the city,” Deputy Mayor Al Corti said.

In 1992, the public voted against a bond issue to build a new city hall. The city revisited the idea from 2003 through 2007, conducting feasibility studies and hosting a public workshop to assess mixed-use options.

With prodding from some community members, Corti said, the council re-initiated the planning process about a year and a half ago.

“I appreciate the input, but now that we have narrowed down the discussion, we need to keep the discussion going so we get a little more guidance before we go to the design phase,” Mosier said.

“The current city hall is falling down. We’re making our employees work in, really, Third World conditions. That, I think, is unacceptable, and it should be unacceptable to anybody in this room.”

For information about the city hall project, visit