The Del Mar City Council at a special June 30 meeting devoted more than three hours of discussion to approval aspects for the Garden Del Mar mixed-use project. The council is working under a tight timeline to include the measure on this November’s ballot.
No formal action was taken on the project last week - that will come at the council’s July 21 regular meeting - but the council inched toward signing off on several aspects of the project, including a specific plan, environmental impact report and exceptional public benefits (EPB), all required under Measure B, a voter-approved initiative that requires larger commercial projects in the city receive voter approval.
The clock continues to run on the project. Without a certification of the EIR and approval of the specific plan by the council on the 21st, the project could be in jeopardy of missing November’s ballot.
Garden Del Mar is a mixed-use commercial development with restaurant, retail and condominium/office uses situated in five two-story structures built over a two-level subterranean parking garage located at 941 Camino del Mar - the site of what was the city’s last remaining gas station. A total of 19,650 sq. ft. of building space is proposed, not including an underground garage for 106 cars. The floor area ratio (FAR) for the project is proposed at 77 percent on the submitted plans and in the associated draft specific plan. Because that figure exceeds the current 45 percent FAR allowed in the city’s central commercial zone mitigation is required through benefits to the public.
The design elements for the five buildings of the project involve features such as pitched and flat roofs, trellis elements and open plaza areas including three designated for public use. Some of the design elements have been driven by the developer’s desire to have the buildings achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Green (vegetated) roofs are proposed with a water recycling system to use runoff to irrigate the roofs’ plantings.
The project has received an enormous amount of attention and discussion over the past two years due to Measure B and the prospect of the project stimulating revitalization in the southern section of the city’s downtown. Besides previous stops at City Council, the Planning Commission and the city’s Design Review Board, the Gas Station Site Steering Committee conducted some 60 public meetings. The staff report for last week’s meeting came in a at a whopping 175 pages, and that did not include the environmental document or the draft specific plan, which comes in at about 150 pages.
This latest examination by the council focused mainly on traffic concerns by residents of the 10th Street area and on the proposed public benefits of the project.
From a list of over 60 possible benefits proposed (with the help of the public) by the Gas Station Steering Committee, a council subcommittee of Mayor Dave Druker and Councilman Richard Earnest has whittled them down to a handful.
“These were the most difficult to get our arms around,” said Earnest. “There were a lot of things people thought were appropriate and frankly there were a lot that were appropriate. We’re not ready to give you exact EPBs, but we can tell you what we’re thinking.”
That thought process according to Earnest and Druker, is centering on public benefits already inherent in the project, like restaurant, retail and public space. From an original plan to build only offices with a condominium form of ownership at the site, the developers Nick Schaar and Bryn Stroyke, bowed to public requests to include restaurant and retail aspects to the project. Earnest thought that in itself should be considered a benefit to the community.
“One of the side effects of creating a restaurant is it costs the developer a lot money,” he said. “The community is getting what it wants at great expense to the developers.”
Other benefit considerations proposed by Earnest and Druker included cash payments over time to pay for city interests, similar to a stipulation in the L"Auberge Hotel’s specific plan, and a monthly fee paid by office condo owners towards the city’s affordable housing element. The councilmen also suggested a pay parking arrangement with the city for use of the project’s underground garage. Under the suggestion the plan would be contingent on a residential permit parking being eventually approved, if it were not, a five-year payment schedule was proposed for the developers with funds going towards a program such as the city’s pricey Streetscape plan.
As they have been in the past, concerns were expressed by several public speakers living on 10th Street over increased traffic from the project. The developers have proposed making it impossible to turn east onto the residential-heavy 10th Street from Garden Del Mar’s garage by installing islands or chicanes that direct traffic west onto Camino del Mar. But numerous residents of the street have expressed a desire to have the street closed to through traffic.
“We want to support this project,” said resident Elaine Delgadillo, “but we want to make sure 10th Street is mitigated. Our primary concern is not turns up 10th but those who choose not to go into the garage in the first place. The majority of us would like to see the street closed.”
They may get their wish - at least temporarily. Council members expressed support for closing access to the street during construction on Garden Del Mar, using the time as an experiment to gauge impacts of the closure.
“I lean toward temporary closure,” said Councilman Carl Hilliard, “we could see any unintended consequences.”