Solana Beach council to draft letter opposing resort project

In an effort to protect residents from feared increased traffic, decreased property values and blocked coastal views, the Solana Beach City Council members on Oct. 10 unanimously agreed to draft a letter informing the City of Del Mar that they oppose a resort project in Del Mar's far northwestern region.

For months, residents have attended Solana Beach and Del Mar meetings opposing the Del Mar Resort, which, as currently proposed, would rezone the land and place 251 hotel rooms, retail shops, restaurants, event space, 76 residential units and 15 affordable rental units on 16.5 acres at Camino Del Mar and Border Avenue. While the resort is in Del Mar, guests would access the property from Border Avenue in Solana Beach, which has sparked concerns about increased traffic.

Currently, the site is zoned for two-story estates at a maximum of 26-feet tall. About one-third of the property is vacant and undeveloped. If approved as currently proposed, the land would be rezoned to accommodate buildings 46-feet in height. Solana Beach residents have argued that height would block coastal views and, ultimately, devalue their properties.

Solana Beach residents have also shared concerns that the resort could also require the Santa Fe Irrigation District customers to purchase more imported water, which would increase the rates for all customers. Currently, about 30 percent of the district's water comes from the Lake Hodges reservoir "at a fraction of what other customers in the county pay," noted water district director Andy Meshek at the meeting.

A spokesperson with the project said in an email Oct. 16 that the plans have since been updated and the resort now plans to obtain water directly from the City of Del Mar.

The Solana Beach City Council does not have authority over decisions about the project because the resort would be located in Del Mar. Solana Beach Mayor David Zito acknowledged that while the council's decision-making abilities are limited in regard to the resort, their role can be "very engaged."

More than 20 speakers shared their thoughts about the proposed project at the meeting. Most seemed to speak in favor of the resort, with some proponents identifying themselves as attorneys and members of review groups affiliated with the project. Others were residents who said they looked forward to having a resort in walking distance for out-of-town visitors.

Brad Termini, CEO of Encinitas-based Zephyr Partners — which is teaming with The Robert Green Co. to develop the project — said he believed the resort would allow greater public coastal access. He added the project would also be environmentally friendly with assets such as solar roofs, solar battery storage, electric vehicle charging stations, electric vans and bikes available for guests and no disposable plastics.

He also contested that if the project does not move forward, portions of the property could be sold to individual custom home builders "who need no further approval from Del Mar, Solana Beach or the California Coastal Commission" to develop.

He said his group has worked with geologists with backgrounds on coastal bluff issues to ensure the area is safe for development and doesn't affect any of the surrounding natural elements. Zephyr has also committed to a revenue share program with the City of Del Mar for sand replenishment, Termini said.

"Our commitment to the bluff goes way beyond an anticipated agreement with the coastal commission regarding bluff setback," he said.

In regard to traffic concerns, Termini considered increased congestion a "scare tactic" used to prevent the development of resorts in Southern California over the last 25 years.

"They all painted nightmare traffic scenarios that would devalue the properties," he said, pointing to examples such as the Montage resort in Laguna Beach. "None of those nightmare scenarios ever occurred. The data does not support it."

He added hotel guests would not typically utilize the roads during rush hours to check in and out, and a third-party study found the resort would add about an additional one- to nine-percent of peak-hour trips on the roads. Termini said this added congestion was less than the traffic that events such as KAABOO bring in and more equivalent to the congestion due to the Del Mar Mud Run or San Diego Cat Show.

But despite the support for the project at the meeting, the Solana Beach City Council members said they could not agree with those speakers and instead sided with residents who have expressed opposition at past council meetings. As of the Oct. 10 meeting, more than 1,400 people had signed an online petition opposing the project, one speaker noted.

Council member Lesa Heebner, who made the motion to draft the council resolution against the project, noted extensive objection from city residents who understood a project on that land would not exceed 26 feet, according to its original zoning. With the rezone, the resort is proposed to stand at 46 feet.

"By far, the number of people who are categorically opposed to rezoning this particular piece of land far outnumbers those who are in favor," Heebner said. "People throughout our city purchased their homes that overlook this plot of land. They purchased them many, many years ago, understanding that what it was zoned for was 18 to 22 estate homes at a maximum height of 26 feet. They purchased their homes, their life savings going into their homes."

Heebner also said Del Mar would reap all the tax benefits for the project, while Solana Beach's residents would lose property value.

"We will be losing so much property value," she said. "I don't just look at it from our budget. I look at it as each individual person who owns their homes and will be losing their property value. Zoning is a promise in my opinion. There's a wisdom and foresight in zoning. The way this property was zoned years ago, knowing its unique location... was the lowest impact possible to Solana Beach, and that is how it should remain. ... You cannot buy back quality of life that's lost."

The Del Mar City Council and the California Coastal Commission still have several processes to go through before the project is permitted, such as an environmental impact report, specific plan, community plan amendment for rezoning, coastal development permit, design review permit, land conservation permit, tree removal permit and proposal maps. The Del Mar City Council is expected to review the project and make its final decision in the spring or summer of 2019.

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