Del Mar council asks staff to prepare specific plan for downtown revitalization

By Joe Tash


City officials, residents and business owners will be focusing on a six-block stretch of downtown Del Mar in the coming year, as the city takes the first step toward creating what is ultimately envisioned as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly central commercial district.

The Del Mar City Council at its meeting on Monday, July 25, unanimously voted to direct city staff to prepare a specific plan for the downtown district, which, if all goes according to plan, would be completed in time for voters to consider on the November 2012 ballot.

The issue of downtown revitalization has been debated, studied and discussed in Del Mar for decades, since a community plan completed in 1976 first identified the need. But for a number of reasons, the effort never got off the ground.

This time, the city has budgeted $300,000 over the next two years to completing the specific plan, a blueprint for transforming the downtown corridor along both sides of Camino Del Mar between 9th and 15th streets.

“That was a very serious commitment on their part,” said Del Mar planning and community development director Kathleen Garcia, of the council’s decision to move forward with the specific plan, and allocate the money to pay for it. “They want to get it done.”

Another potential catalyst for transforming Del Mar’s downtown is the Friends for Village Revitalization, a group of residents, business leaders and property owners that formed recently. The group — which launched its website last week — said it wants to help the city move the revitalization process forward, so that it doesn’t stall as in previous attempts.

“We’re very excited. The specific plan is clearly the way to go. It addresses the issues that need to be addressed to solve the problems once and for all. I think it’s fantastic,” said Linda Rock, a member of the friends group and a downtown property owner.

“It’s a very positive development that they’ve approved going forward with (the specific plan),” said Howard Gad, another member of the friends group. “If you like redevelopment, it’s good news.”

Mayor Don Mosier has said the city has three goals as it pursues downtown revitalization: making the downtown more pedestrian friendly, encouraging business development and establishing mixed-use buildings with retail businesses on the first floor and residential units above.

Among the measures needed to improve walkability, he said, are widening sidewalks along the entire commercial district, improving pedestrian crossings and lighting, and installing features such as benches and landscaping to make the area more attractive.

The plan also will likely include a downtown parking structure in line with a “park once strategy,” in which visitors would be able to park their cars and walk around the entire downtown district, rather than having to move their cars from one place to another, Garcia said.

The council’s commitment to moving forward on downtown revitalization was one reason she accepted a job with the city, said Garcia, who joined Del Mar’s city staff in November.

The specific plan, Garcia said, is a planning tool that helps a city carry out the goals in its general plan, targeting a specific area of the city. The plan will include zoning regulations, design guidelines for both private property and public right-of-way, a financing plan to pay for improvements, and environmental review.

Garcia said last week she did not know if a full environmental impact report will be required.

This fall, the city will hold a series of community meetings to gather comments and opinions from residents on details of the plan, such as parking, medians, width of sidewalks and the desired number of lanes for Camino Del Mar, she said.

If the specific plan is approved by voters next year, it would then go before the California Coastal Commission for review, Garcia said. In order to execute the specific plan, she said, the city must amend its local coastal plan.

City officials have said that one hurdle to redevelopment of downtown is the current set of zoning ordinances. Under the current rules, some property owners would actually lose square footage if they redevelop, because existing rules are more restrictive than those in place when the properties were built.

“We’re hoping this spurs some reinvestment in our commercial area,” Garcia said. She pointed to the city’s recent decision to allow sidewalk cafes in the downtown area, which has led to several restaurants installing dining patios.

Although the economy has not fully recovered from the recession of 2008 and 2009, she said it’s a good time for planning, so the city is ready when the economy does pick up steam.

The specific plan must set the stage for the next generation of development, Garcia said. In the past, communities moved away from local commercial districts in favor of large regional malls. Now, the pendulum appears to be swinging back a bit.

“We’re saying we want both. We’re not saying we’ll never go to a mall again. We’re saying we want a choice. That’s wonderful. I want a choice and the community wants that choice,” Garcia said.

For more information, and to sign up for updates on the city’s revitalization efforts, visit the city’s website at

, and click on the “Village Revitalization” link. Also, the website launched by Friends of Village Revitalization can be found at