Developer down-sizes plan for bluff-top Del Mar resort

Developers have revised their plan for this 16.5-acre site at the north end of Del Mar.
Developers have revised their plan for this 16.5-acre site at the north end of Del Mar.
(Courtesy of Zephyr)

A luxury resort proposed for a 16.5-acre site on the bluffs above Dog Beach at the northern end of Del Mar has been downsized to have a smaller hotel, fewer homes, and more trails and open space, the developers said this week.

Also, Del Mar voters may get a say in whether the project proceeds. Joint developers Zephyr Partners and The Robert Green Company announced they intend to gather enough signatures for a citizens initiative to put a specific plan for the resort on the ballot next March.

In some places, developers have used the citizens initiative process to avoid the control that city planners or a city council can have over a project. If enough signatures are gathered, the city council has a choice of approving the developer’s specific plan outright or placing it on the ballot for voters to decide. If the plan is approved by the council or voters, the city can require no further changes.

The former plan called for 251 hotel rooms, 76 privately owned villas, and thousands of square feet of retail space and restaurants. This week, the Encinitas-based partners announced the resort has been scaled back to a 65-room hotel, 31 villas, a spa, landscaped walking trails and “dining options supplied by on-site gardens.”

The revisions are a response to the concerns of residents, especially in nearby Solana Beach, who said the original four-story project would ruin their ocean views, reduce the value of their homes and increase traffic congestion on Highway 101 and Via de la Valle.

“We have been at this for three years,” said Zephyr CEO Brad Termini. “Getting the buy-in from the community has always been part of the process.

“The resort plan will be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission and the Del Mar City Council, Planning Commission and Design Review Board despite the ballot measure, he said.

An earlier version of the plan was roundly panned by Del Mar’s neighbor to the north. Solana Beach would get virtually all the traffic from the beach resort, which would be built right at its border, none of the tax revenue and little of the retail income from visitors’ spending.

The Solana Beach City Council voted unanimously last year to send a letter to Del Mar urging it not to approve zoning for the project. Solana Beach Mayor David Zito said by email this week he had not had a chance to review the new plans and had not yet formed an opinion, but that some residents still had concerns about the size of the project.

The re-designed hotel and other structures will cover just 25 percent of the site, according to a news release from the developers. The property will include 1.25 miles of walking trails open to the public. Buildings near the trails will be a single story and will be set back from the bluff for minimal visibility from the beach and the preserve at the tip of the bluff.

“We have eliminated all four-story aspects of the project and cut build-able footage by 40 percent,” said Robert Green. “By every measure, it’s a dramatically lower profile.”

The earlier plan was designed to attract conventions and business travelers, Green said. The new one eliminates the convention facilities in favor of a “retreat-style” hotel aimed more at individual travelers.

A portion of the resort’s revenue will be set aside for projects to replenish sand on nearby beaches eroded by sea-level rise, he said.

The site is a combination of seven parcels owned by three local families. It is above a four-acre nature preserve at the south end of the bluff that the city purchased with money donated by newspaper publisher James Scripps, who died in 1986.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune