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Mixed-use project approved for downtown Del Mar

A mixed-use commercial and residential project has been approved for one of the last vacant parcels in Del Mar's downtown village area, over the objections of neighbors who said the proposed building will obstruct their ocean views.

The city council approved plans for the project at 941 Camino Del Mar on a 4-1 vote at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 15. Councilman Dave Druker cast the lone "no" vote.

The council considered the project after an earlier approval by the city's design review board, which was appealed by neighbors. While the council's decision marks the final hurdle for the project's building plans, construction can't begin until a public vote on Nov. 6 regarding updated land-use rules -- called a specific plan -- for the half-acre parcel.

If Measure T does not pass in November, the project will not go forward, city officials said. In addition, the project must also be approved by the California Coastal Commission.

A number of residents and council members praised the design of the project, and said it will bring a needed economic boost to the city's downtown core. As approved by the council, the two-story building will include two apartments and shops on the first floor, and six condominiums on the second floor. The 34,890-square-foot project will include 4,398 square feet of commercial space.

The downstairs apartments will be designated as affordable housing, while the condominiums will be sold at market rates. The condos will each include a "lock-out" section which can be rented separately as short-term vacation accommodation.

The Kitchell Development Co. is the project developer.

Supporters of the project said it will clean up a site that had become an eyesore. Currently, a vacant two-story building stands on the property, which will be demolished for the mixed-use project, if the specific plan is approved by voters next month. At one time, a gas station stood on the site.

"I think (941 Camino Del Mar) is a wonderful project for the community, it will do a lot to revitalize downtown," said Jim Watkins.

Watkins said it has been 30 years since Del Mar has seen a proposal for a downtown commercial development, and along with cleaning up an eyesore, the project will also generate property, sales and transit occupancy taxes for the city.

But opponents said the project will not only take away from neighbors' views, but that its scale is out of step with the surrounding area.

"My view is going to be totally blocked from this development," said Chris Underhill, who lives on 10th Street next to the project site. "We're losing the village character with such a massive project. It doesn't fit."

A staff presentation included photos taken from the living room of Karen Powell, one of the project's neighbors, who filed the appeal of the project to the city council. The photos appeared to show that the new building will encroach on Powell's ocean view, but not block it entirely.

Attorney Marco Gonzalez told the council that a previous project proposed for the 941 Camino Del Mar property, called Garden Del Mar, had been on the drawing boards when Powell bought her home, and it would have caused a greater encroachment on her ocean view. Gonzalez, who represents the 941 project developer, said his client had agreed to lower the building's roofline by eight inches and move back a portion of the building by three feet in response to neighbors' concerns.

"There's nobody stealing anybody's view here," Gonzalez said.

Council members who voted for the project said they understood the neighbors' concerns about their views, but did not consider the project's impact on views to be unreasonable. Councilman Terry Sinnott said it will be a shock to neighbors to have a building standing on what is now a mostly vacant lot, but he said the impact on views is outweighed by the benefits of the project for the community.

This project will mark the first mixed-use development in downtown Del Mar, said Sinnott, and the city will likely see more such developments in the future.

Druker said he was concerned about the bulk and mass of the project, as well as its impact on neighbors' views and a potential lack of parking if the developer brings in a restaurant to the project's commercial space.

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