Del Mar Council considers adding bluff language into resort plan

The Del Mar City Council is grappling with how to maintain a bluff preserve that would neighbor a proposed, controversial five-star resort.

The council on Dec. 3 considered including goals, policies and standards for the North Bluff Preserve in the Del Mar Resort's specific plan so the city has clear, defined policies for the bluff, but opted to send the idea back to staff after some discussion.

Currently, the bluff preserve is only controlled within city regulations, recorded agreement documents and city municipal codes. The overall goal of the preserve is to be "permanently maintained as a natural park, providing for native coastal habitat, protection of coastal bluffs and a passive recreational opportunity for the public to enjoy scenic coastal views to and from the top of the bluff," according to a draft council policy.

Further, that policy would limit physical improvements to the site to only those needed for habitat restoration, improvement of pedestrian access and to prevent and control surface stormwater drainage from on-site sources.

The draft document, as discussed Dec. 3, sets standards for fencing, signage, points of access, hours of operation, roads, amenities, lighting structures, dogs and camera equipment.

Mayor Dwight Worden said one of the biggest additions needs to be language addressing noise, light and visual pollution from the resort — or whatever development is built on the site — and controlling how those elements filter into the preserve. He said he did not want language for the preserve included in the resort's specific plan unless those issues are addressed.

"We have a vision for the preserve, and that's to keep it the way it is," Worden said.

Now, he added, the council is tasked with figuring out "how to do that in a changing world."

The council also agreed that the city needs to figure out a route for resort beachgoers to access the beach without going through the preserve, if the preserve isn't their targeted destination. Water through the preserve, re-vegetation and cameras should also be looked into more, the council said.

But opponents of the project said the council should not consider adding these elements to the resort's specific plan, especially since the project has not been approved.

"We're putting the cart before the horse," said resident John Weir.

He said the council should consider if the resort project is appropriate for the entire community.

Resident Pam Slater-Price urged the council to not combine the resort property with the open space and said there was "no guarantee" the resort will ever be built.

As currently proposed, the Del Mar Resort would rezone 16.5 acres of land at Camino Del Mar and Border Avenue in Del Mar and place 251 hotel rooms, retail shops, restaurants, event space, 76 residential units and 15 affordable rental units on the property. Currently, the bluff slope and canyon overlay zone allows for two-story estates between 14 and 26-feet tall, depending on findings by the city’s Design Review Board, according to Matt Bator, Del Mar City planner. About one-third of the property is vacant and undeveloped. If approved as currently drafted, the land would be rezoned to accommodate buildings 46 feet in height.

For months, residents of Del Mar and neighboring Solana Beach have expressed concerns that the proposed luxury resort on the bluff tops would impact coastal views, create more traffic and threaten the bluff tops.

Jim McMenamin, the senior vice president of forward planning for Zephyr, the project's developer, and a Del Mar resident, said at the Dec. 3 meeting that his company is committed to coming back in the new year with revisions to its current proposal and "working with the city's objectives" in regard to the bluff.

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