Watermark receives mixed comments

Watermark receives mixed comments
Richard Benson, left, of the Watermark DM team explains the project to attendees during a March 24 open house at L’Auberge Del Mar Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — About two dozen people submitted positive and negative comments during a March 24 open house to garner input for Watermark Del Mar.

One resident, however, was so impressed by the project that he was ready to put a down payment on one of the 48 units in the multifamily complex proposed for the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.

“Seriously, which one is the nicest?” John Claus asked Tony Cassolato of San Dieguito Land Partners LLC. “I want to buy the nicest one.”

Most other residents who attended the event at L’Auberge Del Mar were there “simply to learn more about the project,” Kristen McDade Byrne from MJE Marketing Services said.

“We are happy to see that the process is working and people are coming to view the plans and have their questions answered,” she added. “Several neighbors adjacent to the project attended and shared their concerns, which were similar to what has been submitted at earlier meetings, including density, traffic and the amount of open space.”

Councilman Al Corti was there to view the proposed complex as a private citizen because he owns a home not far from the site and is in the process of building a new house on a hill just south of the 2.3-acre vacant lot.

“I support the use, and I have no issue with the density,” he said. “But they need to protect the slope and respect the residents up the hill.”

There are three buildings with two units each proposed at the bottom of the hill he said should be eliminated from the plans.

“They’re too close,” said Corti, who will not be allowed to vote on the project when it is presented to city council for approval because of his proximity to the site. “And there are nine trees that shouldn’t be removed.”

The development team, which also includes Kitchell, said specific recommendations such as those presented by Corti are helping to shape the project, which Cassolato stressed is not in its final iteration.

“We’re listening,” he said. “We want to get all the public feedback we can.”

The vacant lot, now used for overflow parking for events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, is zoned for commercial so a change will be required to accommodate residential units.

To do so City Council authorized the development team to use a specific plan, which creates a special set of development standards for a particular area but does not sidestep the required permit processes.

Watermark Del Mar will feature studios and two- and three-bedroom townhouses in 12 one- and two-story buildings, 108 parking spaces in an underground structure, a pool and spa area and a small recreation room.

Plans also call for seven affordable units, which will help the city meet the state-approved requirements of its housing element.

Four of the apartments will be deeded at no cost to a nonprofit benefit corporation selected by the city.

“As a community we are in favor of affordable housing,” said Arnold Wiesel, who is leading a group called Del Mar Hillside that opposes the zoning change. “We are not obligated under law to make wholesale changes to our community in exchange for several affordable housing apartments. Several units do not solve our affordable housing requirements.”

The property is identified in the housing element as a potential site for affordable units.

According to the document, “within 12 months of adoption of the 2013-2021 Cycle Housing Element, the City will pursue a zone code amendment and associated actions to assign a new land use designation … allowing residential development at a density of 20” dwelling units per acre or greater.

Watermark as currently proposed provides 20.5 units per acre.

Wiesel and his group are moving forward with plans to collect signatures for a ballot measure that would require a vote for any zoning changes to be included in the November election.

“This is a change to our community plan,” Hershell Price said. “Therefore it shouldn’t be decided by three people on city council. It should be decided by the voters of Del Mar. If they vote for it that’s what we’ll live by.”

An informal online petition has been created to gauge interest in the initiative. At press time 127 people had signed it. About 285 signatures representing 10 percent of registered voters would be needed to qualify a ballot for the election.

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