Council members at the June 19 meeting approved the use of a specific plan for the development of an approximately 16-acre oceanfront parcel above North Beach.
Robert Green Company and Zephyr Partners, two Encinitas-based developers, are planning to transform the residential property into a bluff-top resort that will include branded villas, restaurants, meeting space, a public access park and walking trails.
The Lazier family that owns the property at 929 Border Ave. was in the process of subdividing its 6.2 acres into five single-family residential lots.
Zephyr cofounder Brad Termini said when he was approached by a broker to buy and develop that parcel he felt it would be “an absolute shame” to build houses and keep the site closed to the public, as it has been for nearly a century.
He teamed up with Green, a luxury hotel developer, and the two are in a long-term agreement to buy the Lazier property, one lot to the north and another to the south.
Because the parcels must be rezoned, several legislative changes and discretionary permits must be approved.
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.
Also needed are Design Review Board, coastal development and land conservation permits.
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.
The developers have agreed to develop and maintain an interactive website with project information, create a contact list to notify all interested parties, hold informal meetings with neighbors and stakeholders and conduct three public workshops.
The latter would be in addition to the one mandated citizens’ participation program (CPP) meeting. Zephyr and Green held a CPP event May 6 and another May 13, although the second was not required.
Additionally, interim presentations to the Planning Commission and Design Review Board are proposed to elicit early feedback during the process.
The city is in the process of updating its policy for specific plans, but the developers sought approval before the changes are adopted because environmental reviews will require data collection during the San Diego County Fair and summer thoroughbred race meet and they didn’t want to wait until 2018 to gather that information.
“Clearly a specific plan is the right way to process a proposal of this scope and magnitude,” Councilman Dwight Worden said.
Councilman Dave Druker, who opposed the approval in the 4-1 vote, disagreed. He said an ad hoc committee of residents should be formed and a public vote should be required not only for Del Mar Resort, as this project is being called, but for all large developments.
“I believe that it’s important that we do have a citizens’ committee involved in this,” Druker said. “This is a major project. This is going to have major impact on the city, major impact on Solana Beach.”
He said having an advisory committee to guide the process “would propel the developer and the city to do a much better job and much quicker job.”
“I also believe this should go to a vote of the people,” he added. “This is … changing residential to commercial. If it’s a good project it will sail through. If it’s a bad project it will not. … That’s the way Del Mar works.”
Del Mar used the specific plan process for L’Auberge Del Mar, Del Mar Plaza, Garden Del Mar and the ongoing Watermark Del Mar development.
Druker said voters approved the first two, but by narrow margins, because “they were kind of done … in the backroom.”
Garden Del Mar, which was never built, “passed overwhelmingly because it was not done in a backroom environment,” Druker said. “It was done in front of the public.”
After the project, proposed on an old gas station site on the corner of Camino del Mar and 10th Street, was approved in the 2008 election, a steering committee was formed to work with the developer.
Druker blamed the lack of that type of advisory group for the slow progress of Watermark, a multifamily project slated for a vacant lot at the intersection of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.
“This is one of the tools that we need to have in our quiver so that we can … have a whole lot better input beyond Planning Commission and CPP,” Druker said.
His colleagues disagreed.
“I think that we have a good process of going through Planning (Commission), going through DRB, going through council with lots of opportunities for outreach along the way,” Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said.
Worden said the idea of setting up a task force has merit but might not apply in every case.
He said the city could add the requirement on a case-by-case basis.
“I don’t think we need to impose one on each specific plan,” he said.
Del Mar’s former city attorney, Worden also questioned the legality of adopting a policy that would require a vote for every development.
Mayor Terry Sinnott agreed Druker’s suggestions are tools the council could use.
“I would not think it’s necessary to make it a policy because … I don’t think we should be continually expecting every project to do this kind of approach,” he said.