Support for roundabouts, increased height revealed in Del Mar revitalization study

By Claire Harlin

The City of Del Mar is well on its way to formulating a village revitalization project description, which will be presented in December and voted on next year, after assessing input from the community through surveys and workshops. So far, that project description is leaning toward containing a mixed-used Village with residential and parking structures, as well as a two-lane Camino del Mar with roundabouts and development parcels with a 26-foot height limit.

On Nov. 14, Planning and Community Development Director Kathleen Garcia presented results from surveys administered both online and at workshops that collectively 175 respondents — about 4 percent of Del Mar’s population — participated in. The online survey, through, closed on Nov. 11 with 102 respondents.

Maintaing Village character, catering to pedestrians and providing economic and functional vitality were among priorities expressed in the surveys.

An area in which respondents also gave a lot input was an open-ended section that asked for “other considerations.” Sustainability and reduction in greenhouse gases, as well as impacts on the neighborhood were among concerns listed.

There was also overwhelming support for adding more residential structures to the Village, which is currently only 1 percent residential. Offices, on the other hand, comprise 49 percent of downtown Del Mar. Underground parking, plazas, sidewalk cafes, parks and boutique hotels are other welcome structures, according to survey results.

The city’s assessment also gives a strong indication that the community could be accepting of decreasing Camino del Mar from four lanes to two lanes and adding roundabouts. Surveys showed the community is strongly against going to a three-lane Camino del Mar, with two lanes going northbound and one lane going south.

The surveys also showed strong opposition to mid-block open spaces and mixed opinions on public art.

The community has expressed mixed opinions in regard to floor area ratio (FAR), and due to lack of clarity on a particular question in the survey, Garcia said, results in that category were difficult to quantify and deemed inconclusive. The city is looking into whether raising the FAR limit, from the current .45 to as high as 1.25 or more, would be welcomed by the community.

Deputy Mayor Carl Hilliard has stressed, and stressed again on Nov. 14, that FAR — the total floor area of a structure in relation to the size of the land it’s built on — is what drives people to “build a box.”

Garcia has presented the idea of reserving height on the top of structures specifically and only for roof articulation to avoid having plain, boxy buildings that lack character. Increasing the FAR would also encourage more businesses to develop, as some establishments’ FAR is currently higher than the limit, making them unable renovate without downsizing.

Parking was also a major component of recent conversations, and although there is a common sentiment that more parking meters are not welcome in

Del Mar, feelings toward things like parking permits and structures were mixed.

Howard Gad, a longtime resident of Del Mar, said even if you allow 160 percent FAR, it’s “hard to get there.”

“But it’s necessary to give that boundary to see if someone can design the right envelope,” he said, adding that Del Mar has strong competition right across the freeway, with the recent and upcoming developments in Carmel Valley and the Del Mar Highlands.

“We’re not an island here. Del Mar is great, but there are other places out there,” Gad said. “In order to succeed, we need to do some things to drop people back into here.”

Councilman Terry Sinnott said, “I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking we’ve heard from the community yet.

“We have a limited sample,” he said. “It’s a good sample. But it’s just a start.”

He said he would encourage staff to look closely at how the flow of pedestrian traffic would be affected by the addition of roundabouts. He said all the surveys and outreach have been successful and positive, however, more discussion and communication efforts are needed before the project goes to a vote.

Mayor Don Mosier said he sees the 26-foot height limit moving through easily, however, there may be some anxiety about the roundabouts. If that is the case, he said, it is possible to implement roundabout structures one at a time, in phases or as trials.

“There are a lot of places to go find information about how well this has worked in other communities,” he said.