In split vote, San Dieguito River Park JPA board raises Marisol concerns

Developers of the proposed Marisol initiative have pointed to the city's environmental impact report, which details mitigation measures to protect the bluff.

With concerns about size, traffic and bluff preservation, the board that oversees the San Dieguito River Park voted 3-2 to declare Del Mar’s Marisol initiative, which would lead to a luxury hotel project, inconsistent with park goals and objectives.

The symbolic vote took place during the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority board’s Feb. 21 meeting, a little more than one week before the March 3 election, when Del Mar voters will decide the fate of the initiative.

The park’s planning area includes Del Mar, but the board has no land use authority over private property, which includes the proposed Marisol site.

“I’m concerned about the substantial noise and lighting issues and the fact that this project would violate the City of Del Mar’s existing code and zoning standards which are in place to protect bluffs and canyons,” San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, chair of the JPA board, said in a statement.

Bry initiated the motion that led to the vote, after it was recommended by the park’s Citizens Advisory Committee earlier this month. An initial motion for the board to remain neutral on Marisol by San Diego City Councilman and JPA board member Mark Kersey was defeated 3-2.

The Del Mar City Council voted last summer to put the Marisol initiative on the ballot after the developers, Zephyr and the Robert Green Company, collected the necessary signatures. It will appear as Measure G.

The initiative would change the zoning on a 17-acre parcel of land north of Dog Beach to allow a project that includes 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas (27 of which can be subdivided into three units each) and 22 affordable housing units. The maximum height would be 46 feet.

If approved, Marisol would be reviewed by Del Mar’s Design Review Board and Planning Commission. The project would also be subject to California Coastal Commission approval and California Environmental Quality Act compliance.

The city of Del Mar released an environmental impact report that showed mitigation measures that can be taken to address concerns such as traffic, air quality, noise and vibration, and the long-term health of the bluff. The report would be used as the basis of an updated, CEQA-compliant environmental impact report that can only be created if the measure passes.

In a Feb. 18 letter to JPA board members, Zephyr Executive Vice President Jim McMenamin wrote that the board and developers “share the vision of the priceless resource that is the San Dieguito River Park.” He asked the board to avoid taking a position.

“When approved, our plan would provide the JPA’s planned Coast to Crest Trail the vital and integral linkage to our property trails that are to be dedicated to the public and maintained by our ownership and management,” he wrote.

Public trails, restaurants and an estimated $4.5 million in transient occupancy tax are some of the benefits promoted by the developers and Marisol supporters in Del Mar. If Measure G fails, the property would retain its low-density residential zoning.

One of the two park goals and objectives that board members think would be inconsistent with Marisol is “conservation of sensitive resources.” McMenamin said the developers “do not agree that there is any such impact to sensitive resources of the park area.”

The second is “establishment of design guidelines,” which asks development within the park’s planning area to maintain “the largely rural character” and “limit the visual and physical encroachment of development.” McMenamin said the project would cover 33% of the site and buildings would be one to two stories tall, or three stories “in limited circumstances.”

The JPA board includes two representatives from the county of San Diego, two from the city of San Diego; one each from the cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, Poway and Escondido; and one member of the park’s Citizens Advisory Committee, Del Mar resident Jeff Barnouw. Barnouw supported the motion to remain neutral, and voted against the motion for the board to take the position that Marisol is inconsistent with park goals and objectives.

Three board members were absent. Del Mar City Councilman Dwight Worden, who serves as the JPA board’s vice chair, recused himself from the vote and did not participate in the board’s conversation about Marisol. Del Mar council members and other city officials were advised by the city manager and city attorney to refrain from public deliberation on the Marisol initiative before the election, since the project is not officially within the city’s purview unless the initiative passes.

Del Mar City Councilman Dave Druker and Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland instead decided to announce their opposition to the initiative. They joined a campaign committee advocating for its defeat.

Solana Beach City Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer, who serves on the JPA board, was part of the majority vote on last week’s motion. She said traffic, parking and blocked ocean views are among her concerns, and that she received “dozens and dozens” of letters from Solana Beach residents who live near the Marisol property and opposed the project when it was first proposed about two years ago.

The initial plan for Marisol included more than 200 hotel rooms, but was scaled down to its current version in response to community feedback.

“As it stands right now, the community is generally against it,” Hegenauer said in a phone interview.