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Measure T gives Del Mar voters a say on mixed-use project

Del Mar voters will get to weigh in on Nov. 6 on a ballot measure that will determine the fate of a proposed mixed-use project on one of the last remaining open parcels in the city's downtown village area.

Earlier this year, the Del Mar City Council voted to put Measure T on the ballot, which asks voters to approve the underlying land use rules - called a specific plan - for a property at 941 Camino Del Mar, where the Kitchell Development Co. wants to build a project that includes about 4,400 square feet of commercial space, six market-rate condominiums and two apartments dedicated as affordable housing units.

The new two-story building would sit on a half-acre property on the east side of Camino Del Mar, south of 10th Street. Currently, the property is occupied by a vacant two-story office building that would be demolished if the 941 Camino Del Mar project is approved.

If voters do not approve the specific plan by a majority, the project will essentially be dead, said city officials, and the developer will have to start over with a new project.

The debate over Measure T pits members of the City Council and some city residents who say the project will provided a needed spark for downtown revitalization and clean up the blighted site of a former gas station, against neighbors of the property, who contend it will block their ocean views, create traffic and parking problems, and that it is too large for the surrounding neighborhood.

Chris Underhill, a resident of 10th Street near the project site, contends that he will lose 100 percent of his city and ocean views from his primary living area once the project is built. He and other neighbors contend the project as currently designed violates both the proposed specific plan for the site, as well as other Del Mar land-use rules.

"The City of Del Mar has done everything the developer has wanted in order to get this project approved in the November election. They have served the developer well, to the loss of the citizens," wrote Underhill in an email.

Karen Powell, another 10th Street resident, formed Citizens for Resident Rights and Reasonable Development, and she appealed a decision by the city's Design Review Board to approve the project's building plans. That appeal was denied on Oct. 15 by the City Council on a 4-1 vote.

In a email sent to the city in April, Powell wrote that she too stands to lose her ocean view if the project is built, and that the project will cause the value of her home to "plummet."

"It is unfathomable to me that a developer would be allowed to build a structure that would take away a resident's view so that they could capture that view for themselves," Powell wrote.

But Mayor Dwight Worden, who supports the project and Measure T, said that if residents have a view across a vacant lot, that is essentially a "borrowed view," because there is a reasonable expectation that "someday, somebody is going to build something there."

He noted that a previous project proposed for the same property, called Garden Del Mar, was larger and would have blocked more of the neighbors' views.

While sympathetic to the neighbors' concerns, Worden said he has visited the site and come to the conclusion that some of the residents' views would be preserved, and that the view blockage caused by the project will not be unreasonable.

"I wish every project we approve would not take an inch of anybody's view. That would be a perfect world," Worden said.

"I sympathize with the people in the residential zone," he said. "(The project) is going to impact them."

However, the council's job in considering the appeal was to determine if the project complies with the specific plan and other city development rules, a determination Worden said he was able to make.

As for the views, he said, "I was convinced (the developers) did the best they could to avoid view impacts," Worden said.

Del Mar's approval process has worked pretty well over the years when it comes to protecting residents' views, Worden said, and there is one additional safeguard in place - the required voter approval of the specific plan in the upcoming election.

"If the people vote it down, then it will kill this project and the developer will have to start over," Worden said.

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