Public address Watermark environmental issues

Public address Watermark environmental issues
Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum explains the purpose — to provide an overview and focus on what should be addressed in an environmental impact report — of a March 26 scoping meeting for the proposed Watermark development. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — A multifamily complex proposed for the southeast corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive was criticized, mostly for its density and lack of sufficient parking, and supported for its potential diversity during a March 26 scoping meeting.

As they entered City Hall Annex — and several times throughout the evening — the approximately 30 attendees were told by Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum the purpose of the meeting was to focus on what needed to be studied in the environmental impact report.

“This is less a dialogue about the project,” he said. “There will be many other meetings for that type of dialogue.

“Tonight is an overview and what are the issues that need to be addressed in the environmental document,” he added.”We don’t even know what the project looks like right now.”

Known as Watermark Del Mar, the development will include 48 units in a variety of sizes and floor plans on the 2.3-acre site. They include studios and one- to three-bedroom townhomes and flats ranging from 485 to 2,400 square feet.

All will be built to “high-quality, for-sale standards,” Ann Gunter, of the Lightfoot Planning Group, said. Forty-one will be sold at market rate, although prices have not yet been discussed.

Resident Hershell Price expresses his concerns about changing the zoning from commercial to residential to accommodate Watermark, a multifamily development proposed for a vacant lot on the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Resident Hershell Price expresses his concerns about changing the zoning from commercial to residential to accommodate Watermark, a multifamily development proposed for a vacant lot on the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Seven units will be designated affordable. Four of those will be given to the city to remain in that housing category in perpetuity.

There will be a single point of vehicle access off San Dieguito Drive into the gated project and an underground parking garage with 108 spaces.

“You’ll see there’s no surface parking,” Gunter said, adding that the subterranean garage screens parking from the public right of way, limits lighting effects from a big surface lot and provides flexibility to add units and spread them out to avoid “a big monolithic building that’s surrounded by a parking lot.”

“It allows the units to have a little bit more character,” she said.

Because the site is currently zoned for commercial use, several legislative changes and discretionary permits must be approved before residential units are allowed.

Land use modifications require community plan and local coastal program amendments and a new zoning map.

All three actions mandate action by the Planning Commission, City Council and California Coastal Commission and are subject to environmental review.

Zoning changes can be made using one of two methods. A sequential process would initially create a new zoning chapter that could not contain any deviations or assess public benefits.

A specific plan, which creates a special set of development standards for a particular area, encompasses all the legislative actions and regulatory development parameters and allows the public benefit of the project to be addressed.

Property owner Watermark DM LP has submitted a work-in-progress specific plan that requires a citizens participation program, presentations to the Planning Commission and Design Review Board and at least three public workshops.

The developers have also created an interactive website — www.watermarkdelmar.com — and a database of interested parties used for direct noticing of meetings and workshops.

A commercial project known as the Riverview Office Complex was approved for the site in 2008 by the Planning Commission and Design Review Board but the owner decided not to pursue implementation, Birnbaum said.

That proposal covered about 20 percent of the site. Watermark is slated to take up 70 percent and includes about 20.25 units per acre.

In Del Mar’s approved housing element the complex fulfills a state requirement to provide housing in general and affordable units specifically.

Without an approved housing element, which the city didn’t have for a number of years, the state could take action that includes taking over zoning regulations.

The housing element recommends building 20 to 25 units per acre on the site. The affordable units allow the developer a density bonus, but that has not been requested, Gunter said.

Gunter also said the goal is to build the units to look like custom homes, with materials that match those found elsewhere in Del Mar, with “coastal character” and a variety of roof lines.

A list of more than a dozen environmental topics that will be reviewed includes aesthetics, greenhouse gases, noise, land use, planning and traffic.

“We’ll be looking at population and housing and what the growth of this project would do to the city, whether it’s been anticipated or not,” said Carey Fernandes, a consultant with Dudek, the environmental planning firm preparing the environmental document.

Also being assessed are public services to the site to ensure they are adequate and transportation and parking.

“We know that’s been an issue at this intersection,” Fernandes said, noting that current city plans for the area — including an ongoing study of a roundabout — will be included.

If necessary, mitigation measures will be proposed, she added.

Birnbaum said being part of the traffic solution is an EIR requirement, and Watermark will be financially responsible for its portion of what is needed to improve the intersection.

Meeting attendees voiced concerns regarding the nearby wetlands and bluffs, open space and parking. Resident and former County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said there would be only a dozen surplus parking spots, assuming two cars per unit.

“Where will the guests go if more than 12 people have guests?” she asked. “Covering the lot to that extent impacts just about everything.”

Her husband, Hershell Price, has concerns about bluff protection and changing the land use designation.

“The same thing happened in Encinitas,” he said, adding that residents there approved Proposition A, which requires a public vote for zoning changes.

“I think (it’s) time that we start thinking about a Prop. A,” Price said. “And the sooner the better here because we’re working too hard and we’re not paying attention to what these guys are doing except go to meetings like this once in a while. … This is a serious change in our city.”

Arnold Wiesel, an outspoken project opponent who lives about 300 feet from the lot, agreed.

“That’s a commercial lot,” he said. “No matter how much somebody wants to change it, it’s commercial.”

He said the previously approved Riverview project would have closed down at 6 p.m.

“It was not a 24/7 situation like with homes,” he said. “You don’t have the flickering lights in the windows. You don’t have the action of the traffic.

“You have nice quiet,” he added. “When you come in that is the statement of Del Mar. Del Mar has a value. It has community lifestyle. It’s recognized worldwide. We are a wonderful beach community, which probably most people wish they could live in.”

Wiesel said the community respects ample setbacks, bluff protection, space and nature, with buildings that are not too dense or high.

“This is something we don’t want to disband with,” he added. “Commercial really kind of ensures that.”

He said allowing City Council members to be the only people to make a zoning change “is almost incredulous.”

“Sometimes you have to take the knife out of the baby’s hands and you have to have a vote,” he said. “And if it takes initiative or referendum to where the developer might have an EIR (that) doesn’t really conform to what the city wants, then we will let them keep their EIR but always remember this. We have the vote and we will take advantage of it.”

Not everyone opposes the Watermark project.

Bud Emerson reminded residents the state not long ago suggested the city allow 20 units per acre in the central commercial district.

“And the community rose up and said, ‘No way. We don’t want that,’” Emerson said. “Some of you in this room stood up and said the more appropriate place for it is on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.”

The opinion was the consensus during a July 2013 open house when Watermark was initially introduced.

Emerson said council listened and made that proposal to the state.

“It’s important for us to understand that we have an obligation to implement the housing element,” he said. “We have to look at land use and planning commitments we have made. That’s an important element of what we’re talking about.

“In terms of the actual aspects of this particular proposal, we can have a reasonable conversation with the community about the way it’s laid out and whether we like it or not. But we have made a commitment to 20 units per acre … to the state,” Emerson said.

“In addition to that I think the community … benefits from having a more varied housing mix in the town, which enables us to have more middle-income people, which makes it a more interesting population,” he added. “So I think it’s important for us to think about whether we want a commercial building with a surface parking lot or whether we want a community where we might have an interesting mix of people to join our town.”

The deadline to submit written or online comments is April 10, however, anything received after that will also be considered, Fernandes said.

“We’re just really looking forward to hearing your comments,” she said. “This is really the most important thing for us is to make sure there are no surprises and that we’ve addressed your comments. The more specific you can be the greater it is for us.”

Bill and Helen Watts, who have lived in Del Mar since 1971, said they plan to do just that.

They said the meeting was useful in terms of submitting comments but not what they expected.

“We thought it would be more about the pros and cons,” Bill Watts said. “It’s far too dense and it doesn’t belong here. We don’t want it.”

Reminded about the mandated housing element, he said he doesn’t think that’s right either. “It’s still big government telling us what to do.”

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