Community building now focus of debate on Del Mar Shores Park plan


With the site’s master plan process underway, Del Marians are still divided on what to do with Del Mar Shores Park.

Some community members want to remove a building, while local nonprofits that use it want the building to remain on the site. People on both sides of the issue addressed the Del Mar City Council on July 6, after a summary of the planning process by Schmidt Design Group, the firm hired to produce the plan.

Del Mar purchased the property from the Del Mar Union School District for $8.5 million in 2008, in an effort to preserve open space and recreational uses, continue the operation of The Winston School, and initiate a master plan process. The long-range plan will guide the development of the 5.3-acre park, which is bounded by Camino del Mar, Ninth Street and Stratford Court.

More than half of the funds used to purchase the site, approximately $5.4 million, came from the community. About $3 million came from The Winston School and about $2 million came from private donations.

When the city acquired the site, which served as Del Mar Shores School from 1947 to the 1970s, it agreed to a 55-year lease with The Winston School, a private school that has been on the land since 1988.

Besides the 1.8-acre school site, the property features recreational areas, such as a baseball field and a basketball court. It also houses the Del Mar Community Building.

After Del Mar’s acquisition of the park, some residents were at odds over whether the park should be used for organized sports or off-leash dog use.

Eventually, a shared-use plan was agreed upon and put in place, allowing Little League and other licensed sporting groups to use the park from 3:30 p.m. to dusk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Dogs are allowed to be off-leash from 6 to 8:30 a.m. daily and from 4 p.m. to dusk on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

All other daylight hours not included in the ordinance or used by The Winston School are reserved for general park use, with dogs on leashes and no organized sports.

With the planning process in progress, some members of the public are now divided over the Del Mar Community Building, an 1,800-square-foot building that once served as the school district’s administrative offices.

In 2012, the city entered into a two-year lease agreement with the Del Mar Foundation, allowing the nonprofit and Del Mar Community Connections to use the building while a master plan is developed for the entire property. The lease was renewed for another two years in 2014.

Betty Wheeler, a former foundation board member, said the two local organizations raised $20,000 for renovations, which were made possible by volunteers.

Urging council members to retain the building, Wheeler noted that in 2014, the organizations held nearly 80 meetings and other activities at the building, in addition to more than 130 community events. These numbers are typical for the organizations since they moved into the building, according to her data.

“The DMCB has proven the need for some indoor activity space for the community, an important complement to the outdoor spaces that will predominate at the Shores Park, resulting in a park that best meets the full range of community interests and needs,” she said.

Laura DeMarco, a resident who contributed to the campaign, disagreed.

“The activities of the Del Mar Foundation and Del Mar Community Connections are very valuable for the community,” DeMarco said. “No one is disputing that. The issue is where they should take place.”

DeMarco, who suggested the organizations be relocated to the city hall complex, argued that the building should be torn down.

“We need open recreational space,” she added. “That was what was promised to our community. That’s how we raised the money.”

Seven other speakers addressed the council with differing views on whether the building should remain on the site.

Former Mayor Carl Hilliard, who sat on the council when the site was purchased, supported removing the building.

“There is no question that the Shores property was acquired for use as a park,” Hilliard said. “A park, by definition, is an open space intended for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.”

Bob Gans, who contributed to the campaign and now serves as vice president of the Del Mar Foundation, said the building should stay.

“I think it is ideal and totally consistent with the community plan to make sure you maintain that kind of community building … and integrate it fully into these open spaces,” he said.

Although council members did not take a side on the issue, some said the organizations should not be relocated to the city hall complex.

“I don’t think we need to right away decide ‘Does that building stay or go?’” said Councilman Dwight Worden.

“I don’t think we want to step on any of those toes. We want everybody to feel good about the next phase.”

Councilman Terry Sinnott suggested that both organizations come up with a third option for consideration.

“I remember, and Carl (Hilliard) reminds me, that from the very beginning we have told those organizations that there was only a temporary potential here,” Sinnott said. “We didn’t know until we got the master plan put together whether or not it would fit to have the nonprofits on that site. We’re hoping it will work, but it might not.”