Del Mar begins master planning process for new city hall

By Kristina Houck

After hearing and reviewing multiple studies, issuing a citywide survey and holding two community workshops, Del Mar is moving forward with a master plan for a new city hall. The City Council on June 16 directed staff to begin the master planning process to replace the deteriorating buildings at 1050 Camino del Mar.

Council members also authorized staff to issue a request for proposals for a design architect, but did not give staff the go-ahead to begin the design phase.

“We need to complete the master planning stage and then get more community input before we proceed with spending money on designs,” said Councilman Don Mosier. “I’m highly in favor of proceeding with the master planning phase, but not subsequent design phases at this point, nor do I want to start allocating resources to a project that is so loosely defined.”

Staff estimated the master plan would cost about $70,000, but the council approved up to $100,000 to fund the phase. The city will work with Carrier Johnson Architects, as well as Keyser Marston Associates, both of which Del Mar is already in contract with.

During the presentation, staff noted a schematic design is estimated to cost about $135,500 and the development of a design would cost approximately $225,500.

Before the council decided to move forward with just the master planning and not the design phase, two members of the public urged council members to not rush the process.

“I’m somewhat concerned … because I failed to see any consensus between the five of you except that we’re moving forward on the municipal project and something else on this parcel,” said Del Mar resident Bill Michalsky. “To go any further than the master planning seems foolhardy at this point, because we don’t even know what the heck we want.”

“I just wanted to emphasize: Don’t shortcut the master plan because once you get into the design phase, it’s much harder to step backwards,” said Del Mar resident Kit Leeger, who, along with her father Jim Watkins, voluntarily created a design for a new city hall and civic center.

During the previous agenda item, council members reviewed the results of the June 9 city hall workshop and spent an hour discussing the city’s next steps.

Although there were mixed opinions on project details, residents who attended the workshop generally agreed that a 9,250-square-foot city hall, 100-seat town hall and 15,000-square-foot plaza would meet Del Mar’s needs.

During the workshop, attendees gathered at six tables where council members and city staff helped facilitate discussion about basic plans, parking needs and additional uses on the site.

Staff presented an estimated $9.8 million basic municipal program, which included a 9,250-square-foot city hall featuring offices for city departments, conference rooms, public counters, a lobby and public restrooms. The proposed program also included a 100-seat town hall, 15,000-square-foot plaza, and 51 required parking spaces.

Workshop attendees generally agreed that the municipal program would meet the city’s needs, but some argued for a larger town hall. Many also spoke in favor of creating flexible space.

Attendees also looked at whether additional public parking should be offered on the site, and almost all agreed that additional parking is needed, with the understanding that a parking structure would add an estimated $5.1 million to $7.5 million to the project total.

There was little consensus on what additional uses should be added to the site, which was the third and final issue attendees discussed.

Attendees had mixed opinions on whether the city should have commercial space or residential housing on the site. Many, however, liked the idea of using the space for civic and cultural uses — whether having a community theater or art gallery, or even relocating the historical Alvarado House.

“I haven’t heard a lot of — or any — resistance to don’t put any other uses there,” said Deputy Mayor Al Corti. “Therefore, I’d like you [staff] to come back to us with some graphics and help us envision the plan that we do want, and to add some more uses there. I don’t know if that’s townhomes or single-family homes. I don’t know if it’s restaurant or retail. … But I think enough information so we can better see the plan and react to it, and the public can react to it.”

With the council initiating the master planning process, city staff and consultants will return to council with options at a later date. The council briefly talked about the possibility of holding a third workshop to present the options, as well as potentially issuing a citywide mail-in ballot.

“I’m pretty confident that we’ll see a lot of exciting things that we can pick and choose from, and get closer to what we think is right,” Corti said. “I know the public is going to weigh in on it, and I know we’re going to want them to weigh in on it. And then we can move forward.”