DEL MAR — City Council, staff members and residents have plenty to say about the master plan and draft environmental impact report for expansion at the Del Mar Fairgrounds — more than 65 pages and two appendices worth of critical comments, in fact.
More important than the negative feedback, the city wants to convey to the 22nd District Agricultural Association its desire to work together “constructively” rather than “confrontationally” to create a project with minimal negative impacts to the city, its quality of life and the San Dieguito River Valley.
“We want to work with the DAA,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said. “We want to get a project that we can live with, that achieves the objectives they want (and) that doesn’t destroy the environment.”
The 22nd DAA, which manages and operates the fairgrounds, is proposing several improvements that would be completed in two phases during the next 15 years.
Major components of the near-term projects feature what City Planner Adam Birnbaum describes as “some fairly major facilities,” including new exhibit halls to replace to replace the existing ones, a four-story 330-room condominium hotel with associated facilities, new administration offices and maintenance facilities, three rooftop sports fields and a health club.
The east parking lot would be paved and the Solana Gate entrance graded and expanded from two to three lanes.
The response addresses every feature of the EIR, from noise, air and water quality, aesthetics and lighting to protection of biological resources, geology and soils. Birnbaum said overall the report lacks specificity in every area.
“We think more information is needed in order to adequately be able to assess the potential impacts of this project,” he said.
For example, the master plan addresses some of the impacts at the horse park property, but “it’s not addressed in the draft EIR,” Birnbaum said. “It’s essentially left aside as something that might occur in the future.”
There are also concerns about potential visual and light impacts from a proposed sign that would face Interstate 5. A landscape berm on Jimmy Durante Boulevard designed to provide some flood control has the potential to create flood impacts by displacing water to other areas, said Birnbaum, who recommended the report be rewritten and recirculated for public review.
The response cover letter praises the 22nd DAA for its past environmental efforts. However, city officials said they feel comments provided during the past decade while the project was created were not taken into consideration despite “consistent submittal of correspondence to the (agricultural) district with regard to what would be appropriate,” Birnbaum said.
“Concerns the city has about protecting community character and sensitive resources … appear largely ignored,” he said, adding that public hearings were held, “but there really wasn’t an attempt to work with the city to include discussion and a real dialogue on the aspects of the master plan that would have a serious impact on the city of Del Mar and the community.”
Councilwoman Crystal Crawford agreed. “We have, for the better part of a decade, been providing input,” she said. “There is no indication in the draft EIR that that information has been taken to heart and has become a part of what is now being presented.”
Becky Bartling, fairgrounds deputy general manager, said accusing the 22nd DAA of a “lack of consultation” is a “gross misstatement.”
“I myself attended at least 10 meetings,” she said, adding that the fairgrounds will adequately address all comments received. “We take them very seriously,” she said.
Crawford said consultation is more than just having meetings. “If you’re not really listening or not really taking to heart the kinds of inputs and concerns that you’re receiving, then you don’t have meaningful consultation,” she said. “If it’s not influencing the process, then we don’t truly have consultation.”
“I disagree with that comment,” Bartling said. “It was definitely meaningful. There was a very positive flow of communication.”
Bill Lewis, a member of the ad hoc committee with a background in architecture and city planning, said he had a team of experts review the plan. Lewis said they agreed there are major elements that are “not conducive to Del Mar … (but) we can solve this.”
“There is a way to do this to make it work,” he said. Lewis and his team created several alternatives that will not be submitted with the city’s response for legal reasons. However, Lewis said he will submit them as a private citizen.
The public review period, which began Oct. 9, was required to remain open for at least 45 days. Given the size of the document and the scope of the project, fairgrounds officials opted to double that, and then extended it again in December. Comments will be accepted until Feb. 8. Only those submitted in writing will be considered. The 22nd DAA is required to respond to every written comment before it certifies the EIR. Funding for the project has not yet been identified.