Del Mar green-lights first phase of downtown revitalization

At long last, designs are in place and construction will begin as early as next month on the $5.7 million facelift to Del Mar’s downtown corridor.

The city council on Feb. 20 gave City Manager Scott Huth the go-ahead to request bids for $1.4 million in infrastructural and aesthetic upgrades at the 900 and 1000 blocks of Camino del Mar, the opening phase of the city’s Downtown Streetscape plan, a nearly $5.7 million overhaul city leaders say will breathe new life into Del Mar's aging commercial and cultural hub.

Under Streetscape, Camino del Mar will be repaved and lined with new sidewalks and medians, four-way crosswalks, a color-coordinated landscaping scheme, dozens of new trees, street furniture, parklets and spaces for public art.

Bids for Phase One are expected mid- to late-March. By city rule, the lowest must be selected. As long as one bid comes in under the $1.4 million limit, Huth can authorize construction to begin immediately. If all bids exceed $1.4 million, the council will have to give approval in April.

Construction will last through mid-June, overlapping the opening weeks of the San Diego County Fair, but by then the work should consist of less-disruptive elements such as light pole installation and landscaping, said senior analyst Rachel Beld.

The timing and duration of lane closures on Camino del Mar won't be known until city planners collaborate with whichever contractor wins the construction bid.

Work on Streetscape’s designs, led by Spurlock Associates, got underway early last summer, picking up where a mostly unfulfilled plan from 1997 left off. Six months of dialogue with business leaders and downtown residents resolved Streetscape’s dozens of details last month—the types of brick for crosswalk pavers, for example, and the design of benches and trash cans, and selection of 12- and 18-foot tall “craftsman”-style light poles to replace Camino del Mar’s towering, 50-year-old light poles.

A flush of succulents and flowering shrubs will be arranged in "bands of coordinated color" progressing along Camino del Mar, Beld said, with pink, blue and purple hues at the 900 and 1000 blocks giving way to gold and orange at the 1100 and 1200 blocks, and finished off in red, gold and white at the 1300 and 1400 blocks.

Thirty-five trees will be removed and 85 planted in their place, low enough so as not to block residential views or new signage that will help create a sense of place. Trees in the median are expected to stay well below 30 feet, with trees planted along sidewalks having more room to grow. Concerns that emerged over the tree-planting scheme have been less about view blockage and more about aesthetic consistency, said Councilman Dave Druker.

"If you look at our residential environment and then you walk across the street to San Diego, all of a sudden you can tell a huge difference,” he said. “... This is a discussion we need to continually have as to how much we do with trees."

The forthcoming construction marks Del Mar’s first use of Measure Q funds. The city council in November allocated $1 million from the city’s general fund to pay for Streetscape’s first phase. The remaining $400,000 will come from the $2.5 million expected to be generated by Measure Q, the 1 percent sales tax increase approved by Del Mar voters in 2016.

Last fall, the council followed community input in designating Streetscape and two other projects—undergrounding utility lines throughout Del Mar and a proposed redesign of Del Mar Shores Park—as the first to tap into the Measure Q windfall.

"The thing that feels uncomfortable is that we don't know what the other pieces [of Streetscape] are," said Councilman Terry Sinnott. “But I'm particularly anxious to get this going and I think we'll have the room in the Measure Q budget to address the other priorities the community has talked about.”

Two sticking points required the council’s attention: relocating the 13th Street bus stop from the intersection’s southwest corner to its northeast corner, and painting green lanes on Camino del Mar to demarcate bicycle-vehicle “conflict zones.”

The lanes came at the request of bicycling advocates and won support from Del Mar’s advisory committees on traffic and sustainability.

Moving the bus stop would allow a better fit for the intersection’s four-way crosswalk, but take away two of the Del Mar Library’s designated parking spots. Without those spots, the library would be in violation of the city’s notoriously strict parking regulations.

The council unanimously agreed to leave the bus stop as is. With most councilmembers voicing displeasure over the bicycle lanes, the council deferred a decision in order to see how Streetscape’s other elements fall into place.

Streetscape’s subsequent phases are expected to follow in the early months of at least the next two years, and will be far more extensive and complicated as it progresses north along Camino del Mar. Huth told the council to be ready to give direction on Phase Two in October.

"As I’m sitting here right now, I don't know if that's a two-block or a four-block phase, because we have to look at our whole funding pie and see how that fits in," he said.

Either way, construction of Phase Two will be able to begin in January, Huth said, allowing five months of construction before wrapping up for the summer tourist season.

Despite the uncertainty over the timing and extent of Streetscape’s forthcoming phases, councilmembers were eager to commit to push forward with all due haste.

“Phase One should be followed quickly with getting the rest of the downtown done, because obviously this is not going to have the impact that we all want until we're able to get through the whole city,” said Councilwoman Ellie Haviland. “So I hope that we will build on this great start very quickly and get to the rest of the city as quickly as we can."

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