The Del Mar City Council unanimously voted Aug. 5 to move forward with a series of upgrades to the Del Mar Plaza Specific Plan, hoping to rejuvenate the downtown hub for visitors and businesses.
The Plaza Specific Plan was approved by Del Mar voters in 1987, and applies to the main plaza area at 1555 Camino del Mar, the commercial property at 1435 Camino del Mar known as the Corner Site and the residential units at 1516 and 1524 Luneta Drive.
“We’ve seen over the course of three decades, it has some shortcomings,” said Adam Birnbaum, a consultant for the owners of the site, addressing the council during its Aug. 5 meeting. “One of the most obvious is that it didn’t include a mechanism for accommodating future changes and circumstances, and that’s largely why we’re here now.”
Amendments to the Plaza Specific Plan include the elimination of the square-footage limitation on restaurants, allowing new signage for businesses that aren’t easily visible from the street, a new parking plan and using the adjacent “quasi-public” spaces for special events. The updates were first introduced to the city in December, and have been vetted by the Planning Commission and several advisory committees.
Birnbaum said the council’s decision last year to invalidate Measure B, which required voter approval for development plans along the city’s central commercial corridor, helped make the Plaza Specific Plan amendments possible. An appellate court decision that struck down a similar requirement in Malibu said a city council should approve specific plan decisions, not the electorate.
“Because the Plaza Specific Plan hasn’t had the ability to adapt to changed circumstances, it’s in decline,” he said. “That has an impact not just on the owners but on the community in general and obviously tax revenue for the city.”
Patty and Marc Brutten of Brixton Capital, owners of the plaza since 2017, have long been urging the city to allow changes that they have said will help attract and retain new businesses, and draw more customers. With all the changes to retail business over the years, including added competition from online stores, the Bruttens have told the city that sales at the plaza decreased by 24% during their first 24 months after acquiring the property.
Over the last two years, the plaza has welcomed clothing and gift store Sea Biscuit and Kim Kelly Fit studio, joining existing tenants such as Pacifica Del Mar, Lorna Jane and Banana Republic. The Bruttens have also broached other possibilities, including opening a market at the plaza to replace the once-popular Harvest Ranch Market that closed in 2013.
The plaza has vacancies in five retail spaces and one office space, according to a city staff report.
“Downtown desperately needs revitalization,” said Del Mar resident Jim Watkins, one of many public speakers who said they supported the amendments to the Plaza Specific Plan.
Del Mar resident Betty Wheeler said she appreciates “the investment of time, money and creativity the Bruttens have made to turn around the plaza and make it a more vital space.”
“It is terrific to have local owners who care deeply about the plaza, understand its role in our community and are even willing to post their cell number on Nextdoor in response to comments about the plaza,” she added.