Residents gather in opposition of Watermark Del Mar

By Kristina Houck

It seemed as though Del Mar residents favored residential over commercial development on vacant property on the southwest corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Road, according to comments at a July 29 community open house at the Powerhouse Community Center. But a group of community members gathered Nov. 7 to prove some locals are against Watermark Del Mar.

Nearly 40 attendees assembled at the Parish Hall in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, most in clear opposition to the one- and two-story multi-unit project proposed by San Dieguito Land Partners LLC. Del Mar Councilman Al Corti and Councilwoman Sherryl Parks also attended the meeting to hear what those in attendance had to say.

Unveiled during the open house in the summer, the design concept for Watermark Del Mar features 54 one- to four-bedroom apartments and townhomes on the 2.3-acre site. Plans include seven affordable housing units, four of which would be deeded at no cost to Del Mar Community Connections, a local volunteer organization.

Del Mar resident Arnold Wiesel, who said he lives about 300 feet away from the project site, organized the meeting to assemble opponents of the project after learning that San Dieguito Land Partners filed a permit application for the project with the city.

“I just don’t know how this happened,” said Wiesel, who also serves as president of the Del Mar Hillside Community Association. “It does seem like a runaway train because you would think everyone, especially our council people, would have a very delicate sense of balance with an optimum of priority to represent.”

In a letter to the editor to the Del Mar Times, Del Mar Mayor Terry Sinnott confirmed the city has received an application for a specific plan for the property at the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Road, and it does propose multi-family housing. Submitted last week, the application is now undergoing an initial review by staff, he said.

Because the application was recently filed, there have not yet been any public hearings, or review or action by the planning commission or the city council, Sinnott said. The proposal, Sinnott noted, will be subject to noticed public hearings, an environmental review, council review and the city’s design review process, including the city’s Citizen Participation Program.

“…The process is in place to thoroughly review the proposal and to seek community input,” Sinnott said. “Our City Council, planning commission and design review board will work hard to achieve a positive project outcome for Del Mar.”

Council members added the project among the list of future topics for council agendas during a special meeting and workshop on Sept. 9.

The city in 2008 approved the construction of a commercial project known as the Riverview Office Complex at the site, but some residents opposed the project and requested the land be used for affordable housing, said Tony Cassolato, a managing member of San Dieguito Land Partners, during the open house. Because the site is located in a commercial zone, the applicant is requesting the city amend the zoning to allow for residential use.

The open house highlighted the fact that the project would provide affordable housing units where police officers, firefighters, public school teachers and others with annual salaries from $37,000 to $73,000 could live.

According to Del Mar’s Housing Element, which was adopted by the council on May 20, 2013, and certified by the state on June 6, 2013, the city needs to accommodate 22 lower income units. Members of the public argued the city wouldn’t be considering the project if it didn’t have to meet this requirement.

“The motivation for this thing is real simple: It’s it bail out the politicians that have not done their job for more than 10 years,” said resident Richard Anglin.

“We’re all in this city together,” Hershell Price said. “Why should it be up to three or four people that’s elected at a particular time to vote something in that we have to live with for the rest of our lives?”

Others argued against the need for affordable housing. Parks told attendees that there is a need in California to let people have an entryway into housing.

“People have to spend so much money on their rent, then there’s not enough other discretionary money to help with their children, their education, food and all the other necessities,” she said. “So what the state has done is allocate these kind of prescriptions for each community.”

Another speaker, also against Watermark Del Mar, urged attendees to fight the project due to its proposed size and density, not affordable housing.

“I think we need to focus on that because I think those are the issues that people who have typically protected these kinds of developments from coming into Del Mar have focused on,” Julie Korsmeyer said. “Forget about this thing that they’re throwing up for the City Council to jump on. We don’t want to be the ones who are against affordable housing.”

Pleased with the turnout, Wiesel noted he sent meeting notices to residents in the mail just two days before. However, mention of the meeting was included in Wiesel’s letter to the Del Mar Times’ editor, which was published in print Oct. 31 and online Nov. 1. A short meeting announcement was also published in the Del Mar Times Oct. 24 and Oct. 31. Wiesel also announced that the Nov. 7 community meeting would be held during the public comments portion at the Del Mar City Council’s meeting on Nov. 4.

“This is an incredible sized group, never to be expected,” Wiesel said. “I imagine there is a deep interest and concern of our fellow citizens about this. We will stay united.”

He urged attendees to provide their contact information and join him in an effort to petition the council. If the council approves the project, he noted the community will have 30 days to sign a referendum and put this to public vote.

“If it goes to public vote, I don’t believe there is much of a group that would vote against us,” Wiesel said. “Our values are intact. We love Del Mar; it’s a beautiful place. The standards and character of community need to be consistent. This is not the time to jump ship. We have a winning formula here.”