Del Mar Delays Decision on Downtown Project
A divided City Council wrestled late into the night Thursday with the nitty-gritty details of a major office and retail center planned for downtown, but delayed action on the project until next week.
In the planning stages for years, the project is viewed by some council members as the key to the future economic health of Del Mar’s commercial district. But a slew of opponents contend it is too large and will exacerbate Del Mar’s already notorious traffic woes.
Meeting on the development for the second straight night Thursday, the council grappled with questions about the project’s size, its compatibility with the character of Del Mar and related issues but was unable to reach a decision. The debate will resume Tuesday.
In addition to winning council approval, the $18-million project, known as Del Mar Plaza, must receive an endorsement at the polls under terms of a ballot initiative passed in April. Proposition B, aimed at slowing growth in the city’s bustling downtown, requires that all large developments in the commercial heart of Del Mar gain voter approval.
Project developers are required to shoulder the costs of the vote unless it coincides with a normally scheduled municipal election. The plaza’s developers, Ivan Gayler and David Winkler, hope to bring their proposal before voters Jan. 27.
The proposed plaza would replace an existing, 1950s-era shopping center that is deteriorating and was described by one councilman as “a ghost town” and “an embarrassment to the community.” That center, also called Del Mar Plaza, has withered since a grocery store there closed in July.
Development plans, presented to the council and the public during a lengthy, standing-room-only hearing Wednesday night, call for a terraced plaza that is built into the hillside at 15th Street and Camino Del Mar. The 74,600-square-foot project, which would represent the biggest commercial addition to Del Mar in years, would include a grocery, restaurants, retail shops, office space and two public plazas. Underground parking for 350 cars would be provided.
Storefronts along Camino Del Mar, the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, would be individually designed so “they resemble an extension of the village,” said Gayler, who took pains to assure the council that “we are definitely not building a shopping center.”
Gayler said the plaza is expected to generate $140,000 in revenue for the city--in sales tax, property tax and business license fees--during its first year of operation.
The proposal, by a partnership led by local builders Gayler and Winkler, is a scaled-down version of a design that was approved by the City Council in April. That project, which was 34,000 square feet larger than the current proposal, was scrapped in the face of stiff community opposition.
Despite the reduction in size, some residents still insist that the proposed development is too big. Opponents maintain that a retail-oriented plaza of the size proposed is bound to saddle the community with traffic headaches, which already are commonplace during the summertime fair and racing season.
Bill Malone, who represents a band of residents pushing for construction of a smaller center on the site, said the developer’s plan would “turn us into a Prospect Street in La Jolla, with constant traffic tie-ups. That would be disastrous.”
“What they’re asking for is three times the amount (of square footage) that’s on the site now,” Malone said. “That’s an incredible increase, and there’s no way we wouldn’t feel the impacts of it.”
A consultant hired by the city to study the environmental effects of the development on Del Mar, however, concluded that it would have minimal effects on traffic.
Malone and his allies have urged that the project be limited to 54,600 square feet. They asked the council to place both their proposal and the developer’s on the ballot and allow the voters to decide.
“If the project goes to the voters, I feel sure it will be rejected, and then we’ll all have to go through this whole process again,” Malone said. “Why not put alternatives on the ballot and settle it once and for all?”
The plaza represents the first test of Proposition B, which passed easily last spring despite warnings that it would embroil the city in costly legal dogfights. The measure covers projects that are 11,500 square feet or larger, or are on parcels exceeding 25,000 square feet. If a project is rejected, its developer would be required to submit a new proposal that would have to win council approval and face yet another test at the polls.
Essentially, the initiative’s targets were two projects at 15th Street and Camino Del Mar--the Del Mar Plaza and a hotel proposed for vacant land across the street. The sites are the only large, vacant parcels downtown.
Council members view development of the plaza site as key to the future of Del Mar’s commercial core. They noted that the 15th-Camino Del Mar intersection is virtually the crossroads of the city and a popular congregating place for residents.
“It’s really Del Mar’s social living room,” Mayor Lew Hopkins said, “so we’re very concerned that the plaza complement that. It certainly doesn’t do a thing for Del Mar the way it is now.”
Councilman Scott Barnett agreed: “Action on the plaza is vital because the downtown is decaying, and we need something to stop that process, or we’ll lose it.”