DEL MAR — Voters will decide whether to move forward with downtown revitalization after council members voted unanimously at the Aug. 6 meeting to adopt the village specific plan, certify the accompanying environmental impact report and place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.
According to the voter summary, the village specific plan is a set of measures designed to improve the vitality of downtown by implementing the goals of the community plan, developed in the 1970s, to have a pedestrian-oriented, vibrant and economically productive area that serves the needs of residents and visitors.
Traffic congestion, restrictive land-use laws, a lack of parking and competition from neighboring communities have been cited as threats to future viability.
The village specific plan proposes improvements to walkability, safety, traffic flow and parking. It also changes zoning codes to incentivize private development. Improvements would be implemented in phases during the next 30 years to maintain “the unique character that defines Del Mar,” the summary states.
Although work on the current proposal began in July 2011, city officials have been discussing ways to improve the central commercial zone for decades.
As written the current plan features some major changes, including reducing Camino del Mar, the main thoroughfare through the downtown area, from four lanes to two and adding roundabouts at Ninth, 11th and 13th streets.
It will also allow increased building heights on the west side of the roadway to a maximum of 26 feet.
Since July 2011, council members have discussed the proposal at 22 meetings. After a draft plan was released in March, the city received 70 comment letters which, along with the responses, can be viewed on the website.
Since March officials have held 61 information sessions that included committee meetings, question-and-answer workshops, neighborhood meetings and setting up a booth at the farmers market.
In response to comments received, a roundabout at 15th Street was eliminated. Also, total development was lowered from 600,000 square feet at completion to 500,000 square feet. Existing development totals 280,000 square feet in the project area, from Ninth Street to 15th Street and including businesses facing 15th Street.
This change reduces the total parking needs and average daily new traffic trips by nearly half. It also reduced the projected annual revenue by about $300,000 to approximately $500,000.
The plan now also includes thresholds that will trigger council review at 75,000 square feet or 35-unit intervals.
During the hour-long public comment period, six of the two-dozen speakers said they support revitalization, but not the specific plan as it is currently written.
“I’m actually surprised people support this,” said Blake Bowling, a commercial real estate developer. “Del Mar is a quaint little town. Why don’t we try to keep it that way?”
Bowling said 200,000 square feet of development represents a seven-story building, noting that 500,000 is “a monster square footage.”
George Conkwright called the specific plan a “socialist land grab.” Hershell Price and Robin Crabtree said the needs of the residents hadn’t been properly addressed.
“Who is this being done for?” Price asked. “We’re going to destroy the village to save it and we’re going to ruin it for the residents.”
The remaining 18 speakers, plus 14 who chose not to address council, said they support the plan even though it may not be perfect.
“I’m not too sure there is a perfect plan,” Al Corti said. “We need a plan that can balance our objective as revitalizing downtown and fixing it, encouraging development and yet protecting the community and the principles that we all hold so dear. This plan, I believe, does that.”
Corti said there have been several compromises along the way to get the plan where it is today. He said he doesn’t necessarily agree with all of them but “we all need to give a little bit.”
“I doubt anyone could describe it as charming,” said one resident, noting a lack of retail in the south end of the city and the rundown gas station and City Hall sites.
“We’ve got to do something because we know what we have now isn’t working,” former Councilwoman Crystal Crawford said. “Let’s make this happen for the betterment of the community because we can’t leave it like it is.”
To gauge public support, the city conducted a two-week survey. Letters were sent to the nearly 3,000 registered voters.
There were follow-up phone calls and an online survey. Of the 423 responses, about half indicated they would approve the plan. Approximately 41 percent said they opposed it, nearly 9 percent weren’t sure and less than 1 percent preferred not to answer.
The results prompted some residents to ask council members to delay putting the measure on the upcoming ballot.
“If it fails then the chances for revitalization will go into hibernation for many years,” former Councilman Dave Druker said.
“People aren’t engaged and there’s more work to be done to make sure that the residents understand what the (village specific plan) is all about and they have a say,” Tom McGreal said. “Do a special election (later) to gain broad-based community support.”
“More time is not going to educate anybody anymore,” Kelly Kaplan said. “To delay this is to just let all of this work die a slow death.”
“If there was a full consensus, why would you have a vote?” Sara Harnly asked. “The presidential election, right now, is very close. Are they going to postpone it?”
Costs for a special election are estimated at $200,000, while adding a measure to the general election is about $6,000.
The cost to implement the specific plan is approximately $4.5 million to $5.5 million for streetscape improvements and $5 million to $7 million for a public parking structure.
The plan includes a variety of funding options such as parking and development impact fees, grants and loans, as well as future revenue generated by the improvements. Taxpayers would not be required to foot the bill.