DEL MAR — After a Del Mar sidewalk project exposed the backside of the Del Mar Fairgrounds, the proposed solution raised the ire of several Solana Beach residents and business owners.
But the three neighboring jurisdictions were able to work out a compromise for the 2,580-foot fence that will run along the south side of Via de la Valle.
Dense hedges had to be removed along a stretch of that roadway west of Jimmy Durante Boulevard to install sidewalks, resulting in a need for privacy so horses in the stalls below would not be spooked.
Because the property slopes down from the street and sidewalk there is also a public safety issue.
Fairgrounds officials proposed replacing the landscaping with a chain-link fence that would vary in height from 6 to 8 feet and be covered with green vinyl privacy slats and topped with barbed wire.
That prompted several Solana Beach residents who live directly across Via de la Valle to contact the city of Del Mar, which had to approve the project because the fence will be installed in that city’s public right of way.
“While I certainly understand the need for security, I am quite certain that, with the sense of beauty that is instilled in anyone living in our communities, a more aesthetically pleasing solution can be found,” Richard Plush wrote in an email. “With creativity, the necessary protection that is desired can be obtained without offering a fortress-like appearance.”
“While we are not opposed to some type of barrier along the northern boundary of the Fairgrounds, an eight foot high chain link fence topped with barbed wire would project an unwelcoming prison-like appearance rather than meeting the Solana Beach community objective of being ‘focused on maintaining a pristine and family-friendly atmosphere,’” stated Lynette and John Flynn.
“We’re the ones looking at it,” Donna Glenn said. “That’s really asking us to look at a giant green, ugly fence with barbed wire. It looks like a prison. … We’re not comfortable with it. It’s very disconcerting.”
In response, Gary Reist, fairgrounds deputy general manager of operations, agreed at the May 16 Del Mar City Council meeting to eliminate the barbed wire and limit the height of the fence to 6 feet above the sidewalk elevation.
Landscaping that will eventually cover the entire wall will also be added. But Reist said there is a need to get the fence up as soon as possible.
“The goal of this project is to have a safe, secure and beautiful landscape perimeter fence,” he said. “Right now it is exposed and there is a sense of urgency to get this installed before the horses arrive for the race season.”
“The intention is to screen the fence as much as possible without creating a vegetation wall that would push pedestrians off the sidewalk,” added landscape architect Jackie Higgins.
“It’s not the most beautiful fence but I understand it’s necessary to screen the property and it does have a public safety benefit,” Del Mar Councilman Don Mosier said. “Eventually this will be a reasonably good-looking fence.
“I don’t think there were great views before,” he added. “Within two or three years it’s going to be back to an improved view.”
The project cleared the final hurdle when it received approval from Del Mar’s Design Review Board on May 25. That group conditioned its authorization on a subcommittee reviewing the final landscape design plans to ensure full coverage in a reasonable amount of time.
There were also concerns about maintenance.
“We will maintain the landscaping to a proper height,” Reist said at the DRB meeting. “Very little of that fence will be exposed if any.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” he said. “We are committed to a continuous landscape to hide it so you won’t see the fence. … We want to do the best we possibly can to have everybody proud of Solana Beach and Del Mar.”
Russ Penniman, president of the fairgrounds board of directors, made a similar promise to the Solana Beach City Council at the May 25 meeting.
“We’ll get the biggest plants we can,” he said.
“I am very pleased that the original idea of barbed wire is no longer a consideration,” Glenn said. “I have concerns about several areas when I see no room for landscape.
“I also wonder about the need for privacy slats beyond the paddock area since the reason stated was to protect the horses from visual distractions,” she added. “I wish that the entire Via de la Valle street did not have to have such an industrial-grade fence, but I do understand that the new sidewalk created new safety concerns. Compromise is one of life’s realities.
The estimated project cost to the fairgrounds is $250,000. Del Mar agreed to waive $3,300 in permit fees.