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Change to Garden Del Mar moves forward

DEL MAR — In an effort to decide whether residential should be an allowed use in the Garden Del Mar specific plan, council members voted 4-1 at the Dec. 9 meeting to follow the recommendation of a steering committee that many say was instrumental in getting the proposal passed in 2008 with 85 percent of the vote.Council members agree they consider the change a minor amendment, but will poll residents before moving forward.

The Shaar Company bought the 25,527-square-foot lot at the corner of Camino del Mar and 10th Street in 2006 and initially proposed an all-office development.

Because of its size, the project triggered compliance with Measure B, which limits downtown commercial developments larger than 25,000 square feet until a specific plan is approved by voters.

At the time, City Council appointed five residents to a Gas Station Steering Committee (UltraMar gas station once occupied the site) to work with the developer and the community.

The group held more than 60 meetings in almost two years. When presented to voters in 2008 the project featured six two-story buildings that included retail and office space, three public plazas, a restaurant and 106 stalls in a two-level parking structure.

Community members sought to have residential units added but the developer declined to include them.

In 2010 Schaar defaulted on its loan. The bank foreclosed on the property this year, and it is currently for sale. City staff said potential buyers have expressed interest in adding residential, which would require an amendment to the specific plan, something easier said than done because of Measure B.

According to the Garden Del Mar specific plan, minor changes require approval by four of the five council members. Major changes require city approval and a public vote. The plan lists which category some changes would fall under, but residential is not among them.

Council members first considered the request at the Nov. 18 meeting and opted to reconvene the Gas Station Steering Committee for input.

That group met Nov. 25 and unanimously agreed the change should be considered minor, but to respect the spirit of Measure B, a procedure should be conducted to get the “pulse” of the community on whether to proceed with an amendment.

Members suggested a timely and inexpensive process either online or with a mail-in form.

Residents will be asked if it is appropriate for the city to pursue an amendment to the Garden Del Mar specific plan to allow residential units on the site.

Councilman Don Mosier said the language must clearly indicate the question is a poll and not a vote.

Kitchell Development Company, which has entered into an agreement to buy the lot, asked for the modification but has since indicated “even the inclusion of residential as an allowed use is not going to go far enough to make the project viable from a return-on-investment standpoint,” Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum said.

But he added that other prospective buyers have made a similar request, so if the Kitchell deal falls out, the change may still be needed for other potential investors.

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks, who cast the dissenting vote, said she did not think it is within the purview of City Council to modify the specific plan.

“We had a vote,” she said. “It was well-defined what that project was. … The fixed plan is already in front of us. It isn’t up for us to tweak that.”


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