The push to have voters decide the fate of a proposed bluff-top resort project on the northern edge of Del Mar started Monday, Aug. 5 when proponents notified city leaders of their intent to begin gathering signatures to qualify the initiative for the March 2020 primary ballot.
Gathering on the 17-acre property Monday morning, Aug. 5, representatives of joint developers Zephyr Partners and The Robert Green Company made the case that they have listened to feedback from many in the community who said that their first plan was too large for the triangular chunk of real estate overlooking the Pacific and, just to the south, Dog Beach and the San Dieguito River.
Pointing at a poster-sized printout of a revised site plan, Brad Termini, Zephyr’s chief executive, noted that many of the buildings planned for the property’s westernmost reaches are now down to a single story --- two at the most --- instead of three. Neighbors in condominiums just to the north in Solana Beach succeeded in cooling the Del Mar City Council’s support, in part, because the first proposed plan would have blocked their views.
There are still three-story buildings anticipated for the property, but Termini said designers have worked to keep to keep sight lines clear for neighbors.
“We tried to center all of the height and density to the middle of the site where it doesn’t affect the neighbors who have most vocally complained about the height,” Termini said.
All told, the development covers about a quarter of the available acreage and includes 1.25 miles of walking trails that would be open to the public and connected to a neighboring coastal reserve. Plans call for stairs from the bluff top to the beach with public restrooms added. A hotel planned for the property’s southern edge closest to the river was downsized from 251 rooms to 65 rooms, and the number of privately-owned villas dropped from 76 to 31. Affordable housing would also be built on site, representatives said.
The project still has a bit of a signature-gathering hurdle to make the ballot. Ashley Jones, Del Mar’s administrative services director, said in an email Monday, Aug. 5, that the initiative would need to collect 328 verified signatures from registered Del Mar voters to qualify for the ballot. State law requires that at least 10 percent of a city’s registered voters sign a petition for a local referendum. According to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters’ latest registration report, Del Mar, with a population estimated to be a bit over 4,300, has 3,278 registered voters.
The project has a literally and figuratively powerful pitchman in the form of retired Hall of Fame Padres pitcher Trevor Hoffman, who turned up at Monday’s news conference, absent tones of the song Hells Bells, to show his support. A Del Mar resident with strong ties in the community, Hoffman said he was convinced that revised development plans would benefit the larger community.
“It’s going to be a beautiful project, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” Hoffman said.
While some neighbors might indeed change from detractors to supporters due to the reduction of building heights and preservation of views, it is clear that there will still be plenty of opposition. A petition on change.org has more than 2,600 signatures. It was updated Monday, Aug. 5, to note the project’s name change from Del Mar Resort to Marisol, which pulls together the names of Del Mar and Solana Beach.
Solana Beach resident and petition creator Carla Hayes said the redesign does not do enough to assuage concerns about the increases in traffic that the development would bring to an area that is often clogged with vehicles, especially on summer weekends. She said many believe a ballot initiative would allow the developer to circumvent the city’s development rules that require many reports and studies in order for approval of a re-zone similar to what the initiative requests.
“We really do need an environmental impact report, we need geology reports, and we need an independent assessment and a traffic study because how else are we to know what the true impact will be?” Hayes said.
Rachel Laing, a spokesperson for the project, said Monday afternoon that, unlike other ballot initiative projects in the county, such as the ultimately-unsuccessful Caruso project in Carlsbad, the plan for Marisol is to follow the local and state approval process.
“The Marisol Initiative is drafted to ensure compliance with the City’s requirements for a design review permit, coastal development permit, tentative map and any other administrative approval,” Laing said in an email. “In addition, the Marisol initiative requires (California Environmental Quality Act) compliance and review for all of these approvals.”
It was unclear Monday, Aug. 5 exactly what the signature-gathering deadline will be for the initiative, though the effort is expected to be complete by mid-September.
— Paul Sisson is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune