Board member proposes updating Del Mar Fairgrounds master plan

The master plan for the Del Mar Fairgrounds is outdated and needs to be updated, according to a director of the 22nd District Agricultural Association.

“The master plan created five years ago bears no resemblance whatsoever to current realities of the fairgrounds,” said board member David Watson during the Aug. 9 meeting of the 22nd DAA, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds.

The board of directors voted unanimously in 2011 to certify the final environmental impact report and move expansion plans forward.

Projects in the plan include replacing older exhibit halls and realigning the Solana Gate entrance, among a variety of other projects. Some long-term projects listed include building a 1,300-space parking structure and permanent seasonal train platform.

The controversial plan prompted the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority and the Sierra Club to file lawsuits challenging the 22nd DAA’s master plan for the fairgrounds. According to the settlement agreement, the 22nd DAA is required to provide mitigation, which includes returning an overflow parking lot south of the site back to wetlands.

Watson, a land use attorney and chairman of the 22nd DAA’s land use environmental committee, did not serve on the board when the plan was initially approved. Having recently reread the document, Watson said the 22nd DAA wouldn’t likely be able to implement the plan because of the settlement agreement.

Despite the costs, Watson said it would “behoove” the 22nd DAA to prepare a long-range public works plan that would “accurately reflect the needs and desires of this body going forward into the future.”

The plan could include renovating the satellite wagering facility, addressing long-range parking solutions and more, he said.

“Once all this is approved and certified by the Coastal Commission, it makes our lives much, much easier,” Watson said.

“We’re in a time of transition,” he added. “The fair is growing astronomically. No one contemplated the fair would be this big when the fair started. So that could be accommodated in a new plan.”

Watson said there are ways to look at potential uses of the fairgrounds, and that could mean “tossing out the old master plan.”

“The old master plan not only is outdated, we’re never going to do it,” he said.

Board President Russ Penniman, the only sitting director who served on the board at the time the plan was approved, agreed with Watson.

“We need to go back and revisit it and at least see what is still viable,” he said. “Whatever we do is going to be incremental, and so it’s probably going to have to be piece by piece.”