Del Mar City Hall hosts forum on Marisol initiative

Del Mar residents gathered at City Hall for a Jan. 23 forum on the Marisol initiative, which would create zoning for a luxury hotel project if approved in the March 3 election.
(Luke Harold)

With about one month until Del Mar voters determine the fate of the Marisol initiative, which would create zoning for a luxury hotel project, residents gathered at City Hall Jan. 23 to hear two supporters from each side take questions about some of its merits, drawbacks and other components.

The initiative, which will appear on the ballot March 3 as Measure G, would create a “Marisol Specific Plan” approximately 17 acres of land at the northwest corner of the city, bordering Solana Beach. The land is currently zoned for low-density residential.

If approved, the plan allows for the construction of 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas (27 of which could be subdivided into three units each) and 22 affordable housing units, with a 46-foot maximum height.

“The developer is basically rewriting our community plan for the initiative area,” said Del Mar resident Claire McGreal, one of two speakers against the initiative.

The Encinitas-based developer that filed for the initiative, Zephyr, first introduced a plan that included 251 hotel rooms, then scaled the proposal down to its current iteration in response to community feedback, and petitioned for a ballot measure.

The forum was moderated by North County’s League of Women Voters chapter. Questions were collected from the audience, and covered topics including parking, traffic impacts, public access to the property and bluff stability. Answers were often divided based on each side’s opinion of whether there’s been an appropriate level of due diligence thus far.

McGreal said she thinks that if the zoning change is approved in the March 3 election, the ensuing development would be “an environmental nightmare” for the bluff.

The other speaker against Marisol, Del Mar Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland, has also raised concerns about bluff stability. She said she didn’t think all relevant studies were used in a draft environmental impact report completed by the city.

“It’s a zoning change, not a plan,” she said.

But Del Mar resident Bud Emerson, who spoke in favor of the Marisol initiative, said the voters should accept the draft environmental impact report, which didn’t raise any prohibitive concerns about zoning for the Marisol Specific Plan along the bluff. The initiative isn’t subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, but if it’s approved, the resulting project would have to be CEQA-compliant. It would also be evaluated by the city and state Coastal Commission.

Emerson also said the project’s public amenities, including trails and restaurants, would help the city become more “welcoming to others who don’t enjoy the privileges we have 365 days a year.”

One of the questions addressed an ongoing concern that the initiative circumvents the city’s usual vetting process, which includes the Design Review Board, Planning Commission and City Council. Del Mar resident Judd Halenza, the second speaker in favor of approving Marisol, said there was once widespread support for allowing Del Mar voters to decide.

“A couple years ago, all you heard was ‘we want the public to vote on it,’” he said. “It just is ridiculous that the tables are being turned. The developer listened.”

Halenza emphasized the affordable housing as one of the key benefits. Like almost all California cities, Del Mar has struggled to make space for new housing units under the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). In every eight-year RHNA cycle, each city receives a number of new housing units across all income levels that they have to provide zoning for.

“We need low-income, affordable housing for our city workers, our lifeguards, the people who work around us,” he added.