City Council approves amendment to Garden Del Mar site plan

By Kristina Houck

Developers can now pursue a project that includes a residential component at the Garden Del Mar property.

Del Mar voters approved a specific plan for the property five years ago. The matter was brought before the Del Mar City Council again on Nov. 18, because a new applicant has acquired a purchase option on the site and would like to implement the plan. Kitchell Development Company, however, requested to convert approved office spaces to residences.

The council was asked to decide whether the change would be a minor or major amendment to the plan. A minor amendment would require a four-fifths vote by the council. A major amendment would require approval by both the council and Del Mar voters.

Although most council members agreed that the change would be a minor amendment, they continued the item and reconvened the steering committee that worked on the specific plan. The committee met on Nov. 25 and unanimously decided that while the change is significant, it should be deemed a minor amendment.

In a 4-1 vote, the council on Dec. 9 agreed the change is a minor amendment.

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks cast the sole dissenting vote.

“The fixed plan is already in front of us,” Parks said. “It isn’t for us to tweak that.”

Originally a gas station, the Schaar Company purchased the roughly 25,000-square-foot property at 941 Camino del Mar in 2006 and began preparing a specific plan, which was required under Measure B. Measure B, which was enacted by Del Mar voters in 1986, requires public input and voter approval for properties in the downtown commercial district larger than 25,000 square feet in area or with more than 11,500 square feet of development area.

In 2007, the council appointed five citizens to the Gas Station Site Steering Committee to work with staff and Schaar on the specific plan. The planning commission, council and Del Mar voters in 2008 approved the Garden Del Mar Specific Plan, which authorized 19,650 square feet of restaurant, retail and office space in six two-story structures built over a 106-space, two-level underground parking garage. Two years later, however, the owner defaulted on the loan and the property was foreclosed in 2013.

Kitchell Development Company would like to move forward with the plan but change the office space to residences.

However, city staff said Kitchell Development might request further changes to the site plan.

“What we were hearing from prospective purchasers of the site was that in order to make the project viable, there needed to be some change to allow a residential component,” said Adam Birnbaum, the city’s planning manager. “Since that time, we’ve had additional information from Kitchell Development, in which they’ve essentially indicated that from their perspective — and we have not had a chance to review their numbers or analyze them — that even the inclusion of residential as an allowed use is not going to go far enough to make the project viable from a return on investment standpoint.”

The steering committee on Nov. 25 also unanimously agreed that the public should determine whether or not to proceed with an amendment. The council agreed staff should prepare a survey for residents, so they can weigh in on the amendment.

“They felt very strong that it should go back to the public to air their opinion,” said Deputy Mayor Al Corti, who attended the committee meeting. “I think they recognize that it’s non-binding. It’s not a vote. But it’s a piece of information that we have as to how we want to proceed.”