Del Mar residents give input on city hall planning

By Kristina Houck

Although there were mixed opinions on some project details, residents who attended a workshop June 9 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.

About 70 people filled the Del Mar Communications Center to discuss the status of the project — a year after the City Council agreed to plan to replace the deteriorating city hall at 1050 Camino del Mar.

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 1975. Originally built in the 1920s and expanded in 1956, the two school buildings remain in much of the same condition, with 40 percent of city hall unusable due to safety concerns.

“I think we all recognize that we need a new city hall,” said Deputy Mayor Al Corti, who opened and closed the workshop. “This one was condemned in 1975, and half of it has not even been used since then. It’s in dire need of improvements.”

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 a 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.

The project is estimated to cost $9.8 million, which includes construction costs, as well as design, engineering and permitting costs, soft costs and construction contingencies.

City staff has estimated Del Mar could finance between $13.4 million and $21.3 million in improvements. These figures have been confirmed by both the city’s finance committee and independent counsel, said Kathleen Garcia, Del Mar’s planning and community development director.

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

Residents were also asked whether additional public parking should be offered on the site.

Currently, there are 62 spaces on the site. The basic municipal program would only require 51 spaces. However, 150 to 200 additional spaces are needed in the Del Mar Village area to reduce impacts on residential areas, offset business impacts and provide more general public parking, according to a parking study.

For one or more of these reasons, almost all workshop attendees agreed that additional parking is needed on the site, with the understanding that a parking structure would add an estimated $5.1 million to $7.5 million to the project total.

“Everybody agreed parking was critical,” said attendee Greg Rothnem on behalf of his table. “We understand that this is really the only viable option to pad parking in Del Mar. Therefore, you’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to do the necessary spending to do it.”

There was little consensus on what additional uses should be added to the site.

Residents had mixed opinions on whether the city should have commercial space or residential housing on the site. Many of the attendees, 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 didn’t hear that we shouldn’t be looking at other uses, so my takeaway is that we should be considering mixed uses for the property,” Corti said. “I don’t know exactly what that right mix is, but what I didn’t hear was, ‘Don’t consider it,’ or ‘Don’t look into that option.’”

The workshop was the second held by the city. The first workshop took place in December, followed by a citywide survey in January.

To further encourage discussion, the council has also set aside up to a half hour during council meetings for community input on the project. Open forums during council meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and take place at every council meeting through June 16, when the council could make some decisions on the project.

At the end of the workshop, Corti said he gathered that the community agrees the city is moving “in the right direction.”

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks, who serves as a council liaison on the Shores Advisory Committee, said she is excited for the city’s future and envisions community members parking at the future civic center and walking to Del Mar Shores Park. The master planning process for the development of the Shores property is currently underway.

“I see a lot more activity and vitality in our city,” Parks said.

For more information about the project, visit