The highly anticipated proposal to replace the iconic Bully’s North tavern will be a much-needed boon to downtown Del Mar but runs afoul of numerous city regulations, say homeowners who live just west of the site.
Residents of four homes on Stratford Court — whose homes share access to Del Mar Lane — have appealed the project’s Nov. 15 approval from the city’s Design Review Board. The Del Mar City Council could rule on the appeal as early as Dec. 18.
Beverly Hills-based Hillstone Restaurant Group has entered into a contract to purchase the property if its plan is approved. They have worked on their design for nearly two years. The 5,200-square-foot restaurant will feature between 62 and 68 seats in the dining room, plus another 56 seats that will be split between the bar and outdoor seating on Camino del Mar.
Hillstone’s design — which is more than twice the size of Bully’s — places the back half of the restaurant atop a platform hovering over Del Mar Lane, with 28 parking spaces underneath. Two levels of underground parking will hold another 54 spaces.
The neighbors’ grievance centers on Del Mar Lane, the alley behind businesses on the western side of Camino del Mar they fear will be choked with diners and delivery trucks driving to the new restaurant. The restaurant, as proposed, would cut Del Mar Lane down to more than a foot narrower than the 20-foot minimum required by city code.
They also say their privacy will be violated by a westward-facing garden and bank of windows. Hillstone has said the windows will remain locked at all times, while the garden will not be open to diners.
But at the Nov. 15 hearing, Stratford Court residents Glenn Sage and Sarah Howard showed photos that depict the windows and garden looking into their bedroom.
“If people get out on this deck, we are not going to have privacy,” Sage said. “… If we put that deck there, eventually people will come. They’ll open the restaurant, I know their intentions are good, they don’t want people out there. But a year, two years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s tables out there and people taking a cocktail out there and watching the sunset, because I would if I went to the restaurant and was waiting for a table. We want them in the neighborhood, we want them to be successful, but that’s a big, big issue for us that we’ve got to figure out.”
Neighbors fear that the alley — which is universally seen as a problem under current conditions — will be untenable with the additional 350 vehicle trips that will be generated per day by the Hillstone proposal.
“Most of you have been in that alley multiple times,” Sage said to DRB members. “You realize how crowded it can be when one truck is there. If there’s two trucks, five cars and a trash truck, it’s not passable. It’s a direct problem that violates a lot of these [city] codes.”
The appeal also takes issue with the environmental study’s analysis of the noise that will be generated by the increased traffic along Del Mar Lane.
“[I]nexplicably, the Noise Study makes no survey of traffic impact from the 350 additional daily trips down Del Mar Lane, nor any comparable sample of reflected sound from a parking structure of similar size,” according to the Nov. 30 complaint from the Loftin Group, which is representing the Stratford Court homeowners.
The appeal asks the city council to reject the findings of the environmental study and allow Hillstone to reapply once their concerns are addressed.
In issuing its approval on Nov. 15, the DRB stipulated that access to the garden be restricted to emergency egress only and that the restaurant’s western wall be moved back to widen the alley by one foot. The DRB will also ask the city to devise a traffic mitigation plan for the alley, including the possibility of a creating a loading zone on Camino del Mar.
The approval passed 4-2, with DRB members Terry Gaasterland and John Goodkind opposed. They want the traffic mitigation plan to be a condition of approval rather than merely a request to the city.
“I think there will be a problem, and if we simply approve this project without doing anything else, there’s no guarantee that problem will be resolved until there’s an accident,” Goodkind said.
While most DRB members acknowledged that the alley will be problematic, they felt the DRB does not have the authority to impose conditions for easing those traffic impacts.
“The alley issue is a big one but I don’t think it’s ours to solve necessarily,” said DRB member Ed Yuskiewicz. “We should highlight it and say that it’s something that needs to be worked on.”
With the 82 spaces in the parking garage, as well as other measures the city can take, Yuskiewicz said the restaurant may actually improve conditions in the alley.
Hillstone, throughout the nearly two years it has been planning the restaurant, has expressed a willingness to tailor its proposal to meet the community’s needs.
“We want to be collaborative,” a Hillstone rep said at the Nov. 15 hearing. “We want to work together, and if there are creative things we can do, we certainly are open-minded.”
Hillstone has said that, if approvals were to go smoothly, it would break ground in mid-2018 followed by 18 months of construction.