Public to provide feedback on proposed project at Garden Del Mar property

By Kristina Houck

Five years after Del Mar voters approved a specific plan for the Garden Del Mar property, residents will once again voice their opinions on a proposed project for the site.

A new applicant has acquired a purchase option on the site and would like to implement the plan. Because Kitchell Development Company requested to convert approved office spaces to residences, the Del Mar City Council on Nov. 18 had to decide whether the change would be a minor or major amendment to the plan. A minor amendment would require a four-fifths vote by the council. A major amendment would require approval by both the council and Del Mar voters.

Although most council members agreed that the change would be a minor amendment, they continued the item and reconvened the steering committee that worked on the specific plan. The council asked committee members to provide their recommendation to the council by the first January meeting. After the council makes its decision, a survey will be mailed to the public.

“I think this can be classified as a minor change, but there are specific concerns that we need to be worried about in going from office to residential,” Mayor Terry Sinnott said. “It’s valuable to always get input.”

Originally a gas station, the Schaar Company purchased the roughly 25,000-square-foot property at 941 Camino del Mar in 2006 and began preparing a specific plan, which was required under Measure B. Enacted by Del Mar voters in 1986, Measure B requires public input and voter approval for properties in the downtown commercial district larger than 25,000 square feet in area or with more than 11,500 square feet of development area.

In 2007, the council appointed five citizens to the Gas Station Site Steering Committee to work with staff and Schaar on the specific plan. The planning commission, council and Del Mar voters in 2008 approved the Garden Del Mar Specific Plan, which authorized 19,650 square feet of restaurant, retail and office space in six two-story structures built over a 106-space, two-level underground parking garage. Two years later, however, the owner defaulted on the loan and the property was foreclosed in 2013.

Kitchell Development Company would like to move forward with the plan but change the office space to residences.

“When we look at the plan, the residential really accomplishes most of the goals of the office, but provides us an opportunity not just to be viable, but to put some people down there on a more consistent basis in a way that’s going to help meet the goals of the specific plan and activate that Camino del Mar street front to provide extraordinary public benefits,” said attorney Marco Gonzalez of Coast Law Group, which represents the applicant.

In attendance, a few of the committee members spoke before the council. Although they approved of residential use on the property, they agreed that the public should have the opportunity to provide feedback.

“The committee worked so hard and so diligently on this, and that’s why it passed with an 85 percent vote,” said former Del Mar Mayor Brooke Eisenberg-Pike, who served on the steering committee.

“You have to respect Measure B. You cannot undermine the integrity of Measure B. It was voted on by the public as an office project. I am not saying that we have to do that again. But I am saying that you can’t just do four-fifths of the council and not have some kind of mail-in ballot that would give an advisory vote that people did want that change.”

Former Del Mar Mayor David Druker, who served as a steering committee liaison, also approved of residential use and spoke in favor of a mail-in ballot.

“I truly believe that we need to go to a vote of the people on this, because this is a major usage change,” Druker said.

“People will be watching you to see what you do here. If will foretell the decisions and how you’re going to make decisions on Watermark and the city hall project. Without a vote, it may propel people to want to pursue a Proposition A like in Encinitas, where any type of change to density or height, no matter what zone, would have to go to a vote of the people. I don’t think you want to go through that battle.”

The council asked Druker, Eisenberg-Pike and the other committee members to present their recommendation by the Jan. 6 council meeting. After the council determines whether the change is a minor or major amendment to the plan, the city will send a survey to residents, requesting feedback on the decision.

“I think we have to do this the Del Mar way,” Deputy Mayor Lee Haydu said. “We have to dot our I’s cross our T’s.”