By Kristina Houck
Community members will have multiple opportunities to share their thoughts on a proposed housing project, after the Del Mar City Council’s authorization of a specific plan process for Watermark Del Mar.
Unveiled during an open house last July, the one- and two-story multi-unit residential project is proposed for the vacant property on the southwest corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Road — an area that lies in the commercial zone.
Although Del Mar has not yet received an application from the property owners, city staff recommended the council authorize the specific plan process so San Dieguito Land Partners, the potential applicant, could move forward with it.
The specific plan process sets special development standards that apply to a specific geographical area.
In a 4-0 vote, council members on July 21 approved the specific plan process, including an outreach program, for Watermark Del Mar. Deputy Mayor Al Corti recused himself from the issue because he lives within 500 feet from the project site.
Besides creating a land use designation and zone for the property, the specific plan requires opportunities for community participation throughout the process.
“I think the process has multiple opportunities for public input, which is good,” said Councilman Don Mosier.
Added Councilman Terry Sinnott, “I think the specific plan process is the way to go because it gives the community the maximum amount of opportunity to comment, to influence and to have an impact on what the developer is proposing.”
The early design concept for Watermark Del Mar featured 54 one- to four-bedroom apartments and townhomes on the 2.3-acre site. Early plans also included seven affordable housing units, four of which would be deeded free to Del Mar Community Connections, a local volunteer organization.
To encourage community involvement in the process, San Dieguito Land Partners plans to launch an interactive website, use a listserv, meet with neighbors and stakeholders, establish an internal advisory group, and meet with California Coastal Commission staff.
In addition, the applicant plans to establish a Citizens’ Participation Program, hold three community workshops, conduct a California Environmental Quality Act scoping meeting, give presentations to the city’s Planning Commission and Design Review Board, and hold formal hearings with the Planning Commission, Design Review Board and City Council.
“We’re trying to create a very, very transparent process,” said Marco Gonzalez, co-founder and managing partner of Coast Law Group, on behalf of the potential applicant. “Because this is such an important project at such an important location in this community, we want to give this added level of transparency and vision to this.”
Still, three speakers urged the council to send the issue to the ballot.
“I think it’s important that the majority of the people, if this development is to be developed, should at least accept it,” said resident Hershell Price. “It shouldn’t be a burden on the community or the property.”
Resident Arnold Wiesel, who previously noted he lives about 300 feet away from the project site, also asked the council to let the voters decide.
In November, Wiesel organized a meeting to assemble opponents of the project. Nearly 40 people attended the meeting at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, most against the project.
“When something is this contentious and this problematic and there are so many issues, it often makes sense to go to a vote,” he said.
Sinnott said he wasn’t opposed to a public vote, but that discussing it was “a little bit premature” because the city hasn’t yet received a project application and the community hasn’t had the opportunity to provide input.
“I’m concerned, as many residents would be, that it be done right, it be done well and it be done in a way that we could all be proud of,” Sinnott said.
“I can promise, at least as one council member, if the project comes forward and there’s a lot of controversy or a lot of disagreement, and it’s not a clear benefit to the community, then, sure, we’re going to have to struggle with it at the council level,” he added.
“I’m confident this council will only reflect the attitude of the community — it has done that pretty well — but that does not preclude a decision around a public vote. But I think that’s not necessary now, and I assume it won’t be necessary because the specific plan process will be done so well.”