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Del Mar City Council certifies civic center report, delays decision on permits

A rendering of Del Mar’s new civic center. / Credit The Miller Hull Partnership
A rendering of Del Mar’s new civic center. / Credit The Miller Hull Partnership

Plans for the city’s new civic center were delayed after the Del Mar City Council on Jan. 4 heard concerns from nearby neighbors and received a petition from some residents requesting the project be continued to a later date.

“We’re trying to reach a good compromise, a good consensus,” said Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott. “We’re trying to be responsive to concerns, but still put a project together that’s going to be a really good, beneficial project for the community.”

The proposed project, which would be located on the site of the city’s existing facilities at 1050 Camino del Mar, includes an 8,722-square-foot city hall and a 3,172-square-foot town hall that would be connected by a 956-square-foot breezeway with large pivotal doors. The town hall could accommodate 150 people or as many as 250 people using the breezeway as overflow space.

Plans also include a 15,000-square-foot public plaza, 11,500 square feet of expandable space and up to 160 parking spaces in a surface lot and two-story underground structure.

For months, architects from The Miller Hull Partnership updated their plans based on feedback from council and community members at several meetings and workshops. Although an early concept drew concerns from some residents that the project was inconsistent with the community character, many who have long been involved in the process praised the updated plans, which the council unanimously approved in November.

“We need the city hall,” said resident Tensia Trejo. “Our little city is beautiful, but it’s incomplete.”

Some residents who live near the project site, however, still have concerns.

During workshops and the Citizens’ Participation Program — a program created to gather community input on development proposals early in the Design Review Board process— they shared their problems with the project, including concerns about lighting, privacy and traffic. Nearby neighbors brought their concerns before the Design Review Board on Dec. 16, but the board voted to recommend approval of the project with modifications to reduce impacts on light, noise, privacy and traffic circulation.

To address privacy impacts, the board recommended the proposed town hall overlook on the roof of Del Mar TV studio be realigned approximately 5 feet to the east to restrict public access to the westerly edge. City staff, however, recommended maintaining the overlook as originally designed because the property to the west of the project site at 220 10th Street will be protected by a 10-foot wall and landscape screening. Furthermore, there will be no change to existing conditions for other properties along 10th Street.

Board and staff members, however, agreed that the proposed 2,700-square-foot town hall terrace on the south side of the new city hall should be reduced to 300 square feet with an access walkway to city hall and a planted buffer comprising the remainder of the terrace. Although the board said the city should not restrict access with a gate and fence, city staff concluded that a gate and fence would help control after-hour access to the terrace.

The board also recommended heights for the vegetation screening to further protect the privacy of neighbors.

To address lighting and nose impacts, the board recommended the proposed 8-foot site wall parallel to the west property line be increased to 10 feet and extended further south and to the east. Board members also requested the color of exterior lighting be controlled and that all exterior lighting be dimmable and installed in controlled lighting zones. Staff concurred with the board’s recommendations.

Plans on vehicular ingress and egress has created the most controversy.

Current access to the site includes two entrance and exit points on 10th Street and one on 11th Street. The proposed circulation plan allows vehicles to enter the new parking structure from 10th and 11th streets but only exit with a right turn onto 11th.

The traffic engineer recommended the plan because 10th Street has a steep slope and vehicles can only enter that roadway going south. Eleventh Street has a four-way controlled stop sign, allowing drivers safer and easier access to Camino del Mar.

To address traffic impacts, the board recommended a locking gate to control the times of vehicular access from 11th Street to the surface parking lot, the creation of a connection drive aisle between the lot and the parking garage, the installation of right-turn only signage at the 11th Street exit point of the parking garage, and the reduction in associated parking spaces to accommodate the drive aisle connection and increase expandable space.

The board also recommended the project should include the installation of traffic control measures to force vehicle egress from the 11th Street access point of the parking garage eastbound onto 11th. City staff concurred with the board’s recommendations.

Still, some nearby residents argued the ingress and egress between 10th and 11th streets should be balanced. Some even hired their own traffic consultants who offered differing data.

“The unfair and inequitable circulation plan will have an impact on the quality of our life, impact on the safety for all residents in the area, and will also negatively affect the value of the homes on 11th Street near the project,” said Jas Grewal, who lives with her husband, Suren Dutia, on 11th Street directly across from city hall.

A total of 63 residents signed a petition requesting a balanced traffic flow on 10th and 11th streets.

“Dumping it all on 11th Street is wrong and must not be approved,” Dutia said.

Other community members, however, reminded the council that the project is intended for the whole community.

“Not everybody can be satisfied by a plan like this,” said resident Jeff Barnouw. “I don’t mean to discount the people who have legitimate concerns because they’re immediate neighbors, but this is going to be something for all of Del Mar and I think that’s an important consideration.”

Council members Al Corti and Don Mosier, who serve on the city hall project subcommittee, reviewed alternative circulation plans as well as the concept of balancing the ingress and egress between 10th and 11th streets and concluded that the modified proposed circulation design and operation for the project should be implemented. Nevertheless, council members agreed to continue their decision on the project’s permits to the Jan. 19 meeting in order to reassess the proposed circulation plan.

In the next two weeks, city staff and council liaisons will work with concerned community members and consultants to determine whether any improvements can be made to the plan. Work will also begin on an operational plan.

“Let’s look at a traffic solution … that is both safe and does not bleed into the residential neighborhoods,” Sinnott said.

Although the council delayed its decision on the project’s permits — which includes design review, costal development, land conservation and tree removal permits — the council unanimously certified the environmental impact report for the project, marking a major milestone.

“I’m proud of our town for getting this far,” said KC Vafiadis, a Del Mar native and commercial property owner.

Del Mar has considered replacing its 60-year-old city hall for decades.

It was never the city’s plan to permanently remain in the former schoolhouse. In fact, city officials began planning for a new city hall shortly after purchasing the old St. James Academy property in 1973. Originally built in the 1920s and expanded in 1956, the two school buildings remain in mostly the same condition, with much of the space limited to storage due to safety concerns.

An ad hoc committee was created in 1986 to work on a master plan and architectural design for a new civic center. In 1992, however, the public voted against a bond issue to build the project. The city revisited the idea from 2003 through 2007, conducting feasibility studies and hosting a public workshop to assess mixed-use options.

With prodding from some community members, the council re-initiated the planning process in June 2013. Since then, the council has discussed the project during 42 council meetings, held four community workshops, hosted two open houses, issued a citywide survey and conducted an online poll. The Design Review Board has also looked at the project three times.

“Sometimes you forget how much and how many things that have gone through this process,” Sinnott said. “This is a nice recap.”

“We’re not done,” said Kathleen Garcia, the city’s planning and community development director. “There’s still a lot more effort to be done.”