Environmental review of Watermark Del Mar becomes forum for other concerns

Watermark Del Mar rendering
( / Courtesy photo)

The city of Del Mar held a meeting March 26 to go over the scope of Watermark Del Mar’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, but some community members came to comment on the scale of the entire project.

Promoted as a “northern gateway to the Village of Del Mar,” Watermark Del Mar is a proposed one- and two-story multifamily development project on the vacant lot at Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Road. Property owner Watermark DM LP introduced the project at a July 2013 workshop, which at the time included 54 one- to four-bedroom apartments and townhomes on the 2.3-acre site.

The project now proposed includes 12 structures that would feature 48 studio- to three-bedroom single-level flats and two-story townhomes, resulting in a proposed density of roughly 20 units per acre. Seven of the units would be affordable units, four of which would be given to the city.

The project also includes a recreation room, pool and spa, as well as a 108-space parking structure.

From land use and planning, to traffic and transportation, residents requested several environmental topics be studied in the environmental impact report. Concerns included potential effects on community character, preservation of the nearby San Dieguito River watershed, parking at the complex and increased traffic.

Concerned about the environment, one resident noted the snowy egret nests in the Torrey pines near the area. Another resident, Hershell Price, was concerned about the density of the project, comparing it with the One Paseo development in Carmel Valley. And resident Arnold Wiesel requested the report look at potential impacts from the roundabout proposed near the site at Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive. The traffic-calming device is under separate review.

“The most important thing for us is to make sure that there are no surprises and that we’ve addressed your comments,” said Carey Fernandes of Dudek, an Encinitas-based environmental consulting firm. The firm is conducting the environmental analysis, while Carlsbad-based The Lightfoot Planning Group is preparing the project’s specific plan.

Although public comments during the EIR scoping meeting were intended to be limited to the environmental topics that should be studied, some people wanted to talk about the project in its entirety.

Because the two parcels are in the north commercial zone, legislative changes must be made before a residential development is allowed at the site — a fact that some focused on at the meeting.

“I think it’s vital, at this point, to hear from the public and to inform the public and get an idea of what’s going to happen here,” Price said.

Wiesel, who serves as president of Del Mar Hillside Community Association, said he hoped the room of 30 or so community members showed the developer “that this is not going to happen in the middle of the night.”

“This is quite egregious to the sensitivities of the character of Del Mar, which the citizens are protectors of,” he said. “That’s a commercial lot. No matter how much somebody wants to change it now, it’s commercial.”

Resident Bud Emerson, however, recalled that when the city in 2008 approved a commercial project called the Riverview Office Complex at the site, some residents opposed the project and requested the land be used for affordable housing.

“The council heard that,” said Emerson, noting that Del Mar benefits from a more diverse community. “The council made the proposal to the state. The state approved the housing element with that in it. It’s important for us to understand that we have an obligation to implement that housing element.”

Still, some speakers called for a public vote on the project.

“Always remember this: We have the vote and we will take advantage of it in full leverage,” said Wiesel, noting that concerned citizens could call for a special election.

Price pointed to Prop A, a measure Encinitas voters passed in 2013 to limit building heights and require voter approval on land use issues.

“I think it’s time that we start thinking about a Prop A, and the sooner the better, because we’re working too hard and we’re not paying attention to what these guys are doing,” Price said. “I hope everyone here realizes this is a serious change in our city.”

City staff reminded community members that they would have other opportunities to offer input on the project. The applicant will make a presentation to the city’s Planning Commission and Design Review Board, and there will also be three public workshops before the public hearings at the Planning Commission, City Council, California Coastal Commission and Design Review Board.

Matt Bator, a senior planner with the city and project manager of Watermark Del Mar, is accepting comments regarding the scoping period at mbator@delmar.ca.us. Comments should be submitted by 4:30 p.m. April 10.

The developer also recently launched a project website, which offers more information and a place to submit questions and comments.

“There will be ample opportunity over the coming months to ask questions,” Bator said.

“This is the first step in the process,” reiterated Adam Birnbaum, the city’s planning manager.

For more about the project, visit www.watermarkdelmar.com.