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Officials Challenge Proposal : Growth-Limit Initiative Divides Del Mar

Times Staff Writer

A highly critical analysis of a proposal to take the right to approve major downtown commercial developments away from the City Council and give it to the voters was presented to council members Tuesday.

The document helps delineate the battle lines in what may be a major political confrontation between city officials, who hope to increase the small community’s tax base with large developments, and residents who want to keep their town uncrowded.

After receiving the report at the council meeting, Mayor Arlene Carsten announced that the council would schedule a public hearing on the findings at its Sept. 16 meeting.

The report, made by five key city staff members, came in response to a July request by the council for an “objective analysis” of the citizen-initiated proposal that, if passed by a majority of the voters, will require that every major downtown commercial project be put to a vote of the citizens.

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Plans for two commercial developments at the corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar sparked the initiative proposal, which was placed on the April, 1986, ballot by the City Council after 1,500 of the city’s 4,000 voters signed petitions requesting the public vote. The key provision in the proposal essentially gives city voters veto power over any city government approval of large downtown commercial projects along a six-block strip on Camino Del Mar.

At Tuesday’s presentation of the staff report, the proponents of the initiative were noticeably absent. Chuck Newton, spokesman for the unnamed initiative group, said he had “just skimmed through” the 11-page city document and would have no comment on it for several days.

Attorney D. Dwight Worden, who helped draft the initiative measure, was not available for comment and did not appear at the Tuesday council meeting.

However, several of the people who circulated petitions on behalf of the initiative said the city report ignores the need for controls on development downtown, where parking and traffic are reaching congestion levels seen in larger communities.

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One initiative backer told The Times that the city’s analysis is “far from objective” and accused city officials of “nit-picking” in their attempt to discredit the proposal. Another initiative proponent echoed the prediction of Chamber of Commerce President Sam Borgese that the issue would polarize the city into pro-growth and no-growth factions. Both requested anonymity.

The city staff report presented Tuesday criticizes the initiative proposal for ambiguous language and says it may violate state law. It says the proposal would create a more cumbersome government process for approval of the commercial projects and could add up to $40,000 in architectural, engineering and environmental review costs to any major project.

The city officials said in the report that the initiative --which targets commercial developments covering more than 25,000 square feet of land--creates different, stricter requirements for large commercial projects, thus creating “spot zoning” within the city, a condition that is prohibited by state law. They also said it would add city costs to the governmental process.

According to the staff report, only four properties in the downtown area currently would fall under the initiative’s requirement for a public vote: the old Del Mar Hotel property at the northwest corner of Camino Del Mar and 15th; the Del Mar Plaza complex at the northeast corner of the same intersection; Canterbury Corners, the commercial development on Camino Del Mar between 10th and 11th streets, and the Wheelock office complex in the 1300 block of Camino Del Mar.

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However, the city’s report states, several other large tracts adjacent to the central business district may come under the initiative requirement for majority approval by the electorate. They include the Del Mar Civic Center site at 11th Street and Camino Del Mar; the Del Mar School site, now used as a satellite campus by MiraCosta College, at 9th Street and Stratford Court, and the railroad station near 15th Street and Coast Boulevard. City Manager Bob Nelson, Planning Director Lise Strandgaard, City Atty. Roger Krauel, City Clerk Diane Lennert and former City Finance Director Gloria Curry contributed to the report.


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