Del Mar sets path for the future of North Bluff Preserve

Still months away from putting detailed designs to paper, Del Mar took its first steps this week to narrow down its vision for the nature preserve at the crown of the bluff overlooking North Beach.

The challenge before the City Council on April 2: safeguard the 4-acre plot’s natural character while outfitting it for the explosion of foot traffic that will come from a 400-room resort proposed on its northern edge.

Public access from beach to bluff-top will come via a new staircase hundreds of feet north of the well-worn path that now winds up the bluff face. The staircase, which will be built on resort-owned land, will incorporate a permanent restroom and a shared storage facility. With the current path gone, the entire preserve will be restored to its native scrub habitat. A “perch” on the bluff’s edge will give city lifeguards vantage over the stretch of beach below the bluff. The council was open to “low-key” signage recognizing the preserve’s natural and historic legacy, and agreed that there needs to be physical separation—perhaps plantings or a gate—to delineate preserve from resort.

Not finding the council’s favor: a boardwalk-style path, an overlook, tables, shade structures, trees, trash cans or elaborate benches.

“This is just to go up, look, walk around and that’s about it,” said Deputy Mayor Dave Druker.

The council’s discussion, however, was somewhat academic since the resort’s forthcoming Environmental Impact Report is required to consider all options for the bluff.

Still, the council used a light touch in deference to the 1971 deed—inked after James G. Scripps and Helen W. Woodward, two of the county’s most prominent philanthropists, saved the land from being developed as condos—that limits the preserve to natural and passive uses.

The concept now heads for review by the city’s advisory committees for the San Dieguito Lagoon and for parks and recreation. The city’s planning commission will then weigh in before the city council enacts its formal measures.

During the resort’s “Specific Plan” process—which encompasses the preserve—the city could create a new zone specifically for nature preserves.

“Just planting that seed,” said Mayor Dwight Worden.

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