DEL MAR — The Design Review Board had little to say about a proposal to demolish Bully’s North and replace it with a restaurant built to accommodate about twice as many patrons than the nearly 50-year-old downtown eatery does now.
When the project was presented at the July 26 meeting, a few DRB members sought assurance there would be adequate parking and minimal noise and light impacts to the adjacent residential neighborhood.
Other than that, as currently proposed, “I kind of like what I’m looking at here,” board member Bill Michalsky said.
Beverly Hills-based Hillstone Restaurant Group initially planned to buy, remodel and expand Bully’s, which opened at 1404 Camino del Mar in May 1969 following the success of the owners’ first restaurant in La Jolla more than two years earlier.
But razing and rebuilding was eventually deemed a better alternative. Hillstone held a required Citizens’ Participation Program meeting in July 2016 and used feedback from that and the city’s Planning Department to create plans submitted three months later.
The proposal has since been revised several times.
Last month’s presentation to the DRB was informational only to give commissioners and the general public a chance to provide input on the future and more final design, site plan, landscaping and other aesthetic features.
“The project is not quite ready for a formal review or hearing,” Evan Langan, Del Mar’s associate planner, said. “This is simply a proposal to receive some feedback from the board as to where the project stands now.”
The plans are currently undergoing a California Environmental Quality Act review.
The resulting document from that analysis, which should be complete in a few months, will be circulated for public comment. The project is then expected to be presented to the DRB for a formal hearing this fall.
Bully’s currently comprises four lots, three of which are used for parking and another that includes an approximately 4,400-square-foot, two-story building.
The street-level restaurant, which seats about 55 people inside, takes up about half the space. A similar sized area below is used for storage, refrigeration and offices.
Hillstone is planning to merge the four lots into one totaling 14,244 square feet that will include a surface parking area and a single-story building with two levels of parking below. Restaurant access will be via elevator.
As proposed the project will provide 82 spaces — more than required by code, Langan stated in a report — for employee and patron parking.
Although original plans called for parking access from Camino del Mar, the entrances and exits will be exclusively from the alley to the west of the building to provide “a strong street-front approach” and make the area more pedestrian friendly, architect Hunter Fleetwood said.
The approximately 5,220-square-foot building will feature a dining area, full-service bar and street-front patio as well as the kitchen, storage areas and a small office.
The inside dining area will accommodate 62 people, with seating planned for about 118 patrons overall, including the bar and outdoor patio.
“We could build it bigger but it’s something that we feel … is the right scale and size for the site,” Fleetwood said.
The maximum proposed height is 13.6 feet high, which is slightly lower than what is allowed.
“We feel like we’ve protected the views in that way,” Fleetwood said. “From the very beginning the design team has sought to create a building that is sensitive to the character of the community.”
Additionally, original plans didn’t call for outside dining but it was added in response to public comments. Unlike Americana Restaurant, patio seating will not be open to the public because the area is not on public property.
Hillstone is a private, family-owned business founded in 1977 that views its 47 restaurants in 12 states, including 17 in California, as “places of enjoyment,” according to Brian Biel, company vice president.
“We see them as very important to the communities that we’re in,” he said. “Each one is a unique venture.”
He said Hillstone, perhaps best known for Houston’s restaurants, focuses on quality materials that are “sensitive to the context of the areas they are in,” architecture that is “in harmony with the community” and “warm modern interiors.”
“We’re in the service business and we wouldn’t be in the communities for long if we weren’t good neighbors” Biel said.
Though not yet set in stone, the proposed menu will feather American cuisine, “fantastic” cheeseburgers, sandwiches, salads and prime rib, he added.
Biel said he would “very much appreciate any guidance.”
No residents spoke during public comment.
Michalsky said exterior lighting should not be intrusive and he suggested making neighborhood-facing windows inoperable.
“It’s adventurous and I think it’s a good first step,” he said.