DEL MAR — When Watermark Del Mar was proposed for a vacant lot on the southeast corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive the developers anticipated some opposition.
“We never went into this expecting that we would have 100 percent support,” Kitchell Vice President Don Glatthorn said. “That’s virtually impossible.”
In fact the team, which also includes Watermark DM LP and San Dieguito Land Partners, has used comments received to modify the multifamily complex, which has been presented to the community several times since 2013.
For example, Watermark began with 57 units and was scaled back twice to its current 48-unit iteration in response to concerns that it was too dense. A pool originally slated for the southern section of the site was moved to the other side of the property to minimize noise impacts to existing property owners.
“We’ve got to focus on what we can control, which is working on the details, listening to concerns and improving our proposal,” Glatthorn said. “We hope at the end of the day people will come around and make their own judgments and see the benefits to what we’re offering.”
The 2.37-acre lot is currently used for overflow parking during events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. A commercial office project approved in 2008 was never built and the property sale to the Watermark team was finalized in 2013.
The site is currently zoned commercial but in 2014 City Council authorized the use of a specific plan, which creates a special set of development standards for a particular area, to allow residential use.
“People like specific plans, generally, because … you see a fully designed project and the community can see what the impact of the zoning update will be,” Glatthorn said. “People get to see the whole picture.
“In a nutshell it’s really about transparency and it enumerates all the public benefits that we’ll be providing to the community, which a standard rezone does not do,” he added. “And it sets up the outreach and provides for more community input.”
The current proposal features studio apartments and two- and three-bedroom condominiums in 12 one- and two-story buildings “to accommodate singles, seniors and small families,” 108 parking spaces in an underground structure, a pool and spa area and a small recreation room.
It will include seven affordable units, four of which will be deeded at no cost to a nonprofit benefit corporation selected by the city.
The affordable units will help the city meet the state-approved requirements of its housing element and allows for up to 25 units per acre, although Watermark is currently designed to accommodate 20.5.
Materials, textures, colors and architecture mimic what already exists in Del Mar, Glatthorn said.
“We want it to look like a series of collection homes from Jimmy Durante,” he said, noting that one-story buildings were strategically placed at the corner to achieve that goal. “And that’s important to us because Del Mar is a very unique community in that there’s a beautiful coastal-inspired architecture here that we really tried to capture in our design concept.
“We didn’t want this to look like a monolithic façade — a plaster box that had metal windows in it,” he added. “We really want this to be a place that we would want to live or have our family or friends live here.”
The team has conducted four open houses to explain the project, garner public input and address concerns, which have mainly focused on guest parking and undergrounding the utility poles.
Glatthorn said a public lot across the street can be used by guests but additional parking is “something we’re studying to see if we can pick up a few stalls.”
He said the team is also “sincerely studying” the undergrounding process.
Most of the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to the developers. But an online petition has been started in an effort to require a vote for the zoning change.
It began March 8 and 124 people signed it as of March 23. To place such a request on an upcoming ballot about 285 signatures representing 1o percent of registered voters would be needed.
Led by resident Arnold Wiesel, the group behind the effort has listed several issues, some of which are incorrect, the Watermark team said.
In his correspondence Wiesel stated, “This development will cover the entire usable portion of the lot with no open space.”
Glatthorn said buildings will cover 41 percent of the 2.37 acres. The rest of the property will be open space that includes the natural bluffs, landscaped setbacks and courtyards.
“The site was designed to emphasize open space between the units to avoid a taller, more monolithic structure,” design and construction director Marne Boullion said.
“It’s really important how it presents itself to the streetscape so we will have a duplex with a 10-foot gap, a duplex with 10-foot gap, a duplex with a 20-foot gap – a large landscaped open space in the middle — a duplex and a 10-foot gap and a sixplex on the south end,” Glatthorn said.
A 280-foot courtyard that varies in width runs north to south in the center of the complex.
In response to other concerns, Glatthorn said studies indicate Watermark will generate less traffic than the previously approved office complex and natural bluffs will not be bulldozed.
“The bluffs where we are building are not natural,” he said. “They’re manufactured. We have preserved the natural bluffs.”
He said most of the lighting in the open courtyard and along walkways will be below-knee height and Watermark will use a patrolled security service and hotline for noise complaints.
“When it comes to things like lighting and noise we have the same concerns and they are legitimate,” Glatthorn said. “We can’t have an environment that is too bright and too noisy because the people that live there will not be satisfied.”
He said the covenants, conditions and restrictions will include strict rules with regard to light, noise and short-term rentals.
“We have a concern, frankly, about Airbnb use on this site and I don’t think our CC&Rs will allow that,” he said. “That’s not what we’re building here. This is not going to be a hotel. That would be negatively impactful to the people living here.”
Although up to a dozen Torrey pine trees will be removed Glatthorn said the developers will comply with the city’s tree ordinance. He also said it’s true that the floor area ratio is about 65 percent.
“We’re not shy about that,” he said. “The FAR needs to go higher in order to achieve 20 to 25 units per acre. But there’s precedent in the city.”
The specific plans at L’Auberge and Del Mar Plaza have greater FARs and Garden Del Mar in the downtown area was approved for a .77 FAR.
“This is going to be a very high-quality design and frankly an expensive project to execute,” Glatthorn said. “It’s very important that if we get a chance to do this it does come off exactly right.”