DEL MAR — Council members at the Dec. 18 meeting upheld a Design Review Board ruling, voting 4-1 not to hear an appeal submitted by a group of residents who raised concerns about a proposal to demolish Bully’s North.
Beverly Hills-based Hillstone Restaurant Group is planning to replace the decades-old business with a 4,768-square-foot, one-story restaurant on a podium over an alley-level parking lot and two-level subterranean parking garage.
The new eatery will accommodate 62 to 68 indoor dining patrons, with an additional 28 patio dining seats and 28 bar seats, for a maximum capacity 118 to 124. Bully’s, a two-story, 4,100-square-foot building, seats about 55 people inside.
At 14 feet high the new building will be about 3 feet lower than the existing one, which was built in 1929. Brian Biel with Hillstone said it will probably close at 11 p.m., one hour earlier than Bully’s.
Seventy-eight parking spaces are required. Eighty-two are proposed. Employees will park onsite.
The DRB approved the project 4-2 in November after two public hearings. Environmental reviews indicated that although there will be some impacts — mostly noise during construction — they could all be mitigated to less than significant.
Jim and Joann Stricklin, Glenn Sage and Karin Sporn, who live west of the property, disagreed. They claim the project will narrow the alley, known as Del Mar Lane, that separates the commercial buildings that front Camino del Mar from residential units to the west.
That would result in a conflict with the city’s minimum width requirement for an alley.
As approved they say the new restaurant will also create an unreasonable invasion of privacy on neighboring properties. Additionally, the residents said they believe the environmental review, or mitigated negative declaration, is “legally deficient” because increased traffic will result in more noise.
“From the beginning of this project we’ve been concerned and are very sympathetic to what I call the uncertainty of the appellants … based on speculation rather than evidence,” Biel said. “One of the very first things that we did was to meet with all of the neighbors … and we heard loud and clear some of these concerns about noise and privacy and we designed the building accordingly.”
He said the restaurant is oriented almost entirely toward Camino del Mar, not the ocean view, and west-facing windows will be inoperable to reduce potential noise. Additionally, the garden was created to screen the east-facing view from the residential area.
Biel said the new building “substantially updates the site (and) brings the building height into compliance, which is good for the view shed above.”
“It’s substantially under what’s allowable … for this site so someone else could come along and build more than what we’re proposing,” he added. “This project takes place entirely on private property and we can’t create public property on private property to create more alley width.”
Staff recommended council members not grant an appeal and schedule a de novo, or new, public hearing, noting that the project complies with city codes for the downtown area.
“It is staff’s determination that the concerns cited within the appeal have been addressed through the project’s design (and specifically as a result of changes made in response to public testimony and direction provided by the Design Review Board during the project’s two public hearings),” the staff report states.
According to staff analysis, the development is taking place on private property and Hillstone did not seek encroachment permits for the alley, which is currently narrower than it probably should be.
To address privacy concerns, the developers changed plans for the west-facing garden so patrons will be prohibited from accessing the area in perpetuity.
Staff members also concluded the traffic study “correctly analyzed the project for changes in vehicle trips and their impact to surrounding intersections both during construction and future restaurant operation, and found that no impacts would occur.”
Councilman Dave Druker voted to grant the new hearing, mostly to provide a full public discussion of the project because it does not require City Council approval.
“This is a major project in terms of Camino del Mar and it would be nice if we could have a full presentation … not that we are going to be able to opine much,” he said before asking Biel to consider scheduling a time to provide information during a council meeting.
Mayor Dwight Worden asked that a future agenda include a discussion on “the overall alley and how it’s working or not working,” a recommendation made by DRB members.
Alexander S. Maniscalco, who is representing the appellants, said he and his clients appreciate the city’s consideration of an appeal “and the safety concerns with effectively narrowing Del Mar Lane.”
“My client has a 30- to 90-day period now to consider whether to seek court review, and they are working to resolve their concerns directly with Hillstone Restaurant Group and city officials,” he added.