Proposed Del Mar condo project draws fire

A proposal to build a 38-unit condominium project on a vacant lot south of the Del Mar Fairgrounds continues to generate controversy as it works its way through the city of Del Mar's review process.

Watermark Del Mar is proposed for a 2.3-acre parcel at the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Road. The developer, Kitchell Development Co., is in the process of erecting "story poles," which give observers an idea of the dimensions of the proposed buildings.

The next step in the city's review process is a hearing before the Design Review Board, which has not been scheduled yet, said Kathy Garcia, Del Mar's director of planning and community development. A draft environmental impact report (EIR) was released for public comment last fall. The project will also go before the Del Mar Planning Commission, the City Council and the California Coastal Commission.

Currently, the property is zoned for commercial, and in 2008 the city had approved an office building for the site. The property was later sold to a partnership which includes Kitchell, and the Watermark project has been in the works for the past four years.

Rather than rezone the property as residential, the city opted to use a "specific plan," which means the City Council must approve all aspects of the development, from environmental mitigation to building height and setbacks, said Garcia. One difference between a specific plan and a straight zoning change, she said, is that the city must consider and negotiate public benefits from the project during its review.

Since the project was initially proposed, the developer has scaled it back from 57 units to the current 38-unit proposal.

"We are focused on the 38-unit project. That's what the community advised us was the preferred option," said Don Glatthorn, Kitchell vice president.

The project as proposed will include 30 for-sale condos and eight units of affordable housing, four of which would be deeded to the city or a nonprofit agency. The affordable units would likely be rented, said Glatthorn. Those units would also help the city meet its state-mandated goal of 22 new affordable housing units over the next four years.

In spite of the downsizing of the project, some who live or work near the project site continue to oppose many elements of the proposal.

"This is a very contentious project with a lot of things upsetting to a lot of people for a lot of reasons," said Arnold Wiesel, who lives on Heather Lane, just south of the project site.

Among the concerns, said Wiesel, are what he said are flaws in the biology section of the draft EIR, and the layout of the project. Wiesel said the proposed project fails to protect endangered plants such as Torrey pine trees, and that large, pollution-spewing exhaust fans for the planned underground parking structure are planned for the south site of the project, near existing homes.

Also, he said activity, noise and lights from the smaller affordable housing units, which will have more people per square foot than the larger units, are placed on the southern edge of the project and will impact nearby residents.

Wiesel and other residents, who are part of the Del Mar Hillside Community Association, have hired an attorney to represent them, and also commissioned an independent review of the biological section of the EIR.

Another objection to the project stems from its size and scale.

Architect Janice Batter, whose firm, Batter Kay, had previously owned the property and proposed the office building, which was approved by the city, said Watermark is out of scale with the rest of Del Mar.

"This project is larger than any other project in Del Mar, more bulky and massive," she said.

She said the proposed office building was 22,000 square feet, while the building space proposed for Watermark would total some 60,000 square feet.

In a written response, Glatthorn noted that the city of Del Mar adopted a housing element to its General Plan in 2014, which established a density goal of 47 to 59 units of housing on the site of the proposed Watermark project, and the current parameters of the project - at 38 housing units - fall below the minimum number envisioned by the city. He said the EIR found the residential project will generate less traffic than the previously approved office project.

He also countered the contention of neighbors regarding the biological analysis in the draft EIR.

"There are no unmitigatable biological conditions that prevent this project from being built," Glatthorn said. The EIR was commissioned by the city, he said, and his firm doesn't have a say regarding its conclusions.

In his written statement, Glatthorn said six Torrey pines will be replanted on site, and 35 additional trees will be planted.

While no date has been set for construction to begin, Glatthorn wrote that much of the decision-making and approvals will play out in 2018.

"We are working earnestly and enthusiastically on bringing this excellent opportunity to the community in the upcoming months," he wrote.

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