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City moves ahead to set in-lieu parking fee

DEL MAR — Council members, some with reluctance, agreed at the March 18 meeting to move forward with a plan that would allow downtown property owners to pay a fee instead of providing some of their required onsite parking spaces. 

The 2008 council, which included none of the current members, adopted the in-lieu program that permits owners to satisfy up to 50 percent of the mandated parking stalls by paying into a fund that will be used to build a parking garage or provide a shuttle.

At the time an amount wasn’t established.

Parking woes have long been a topic in the beachside city, although some contend there isn’t a lack of spaces, just a shortage in the north end of town, where most restaurants and retail shops are located.

Regardless, property owners say parking requirements are a deterrent when it comes to improving or expanding existing businesses.

Whenever new development proposals are presented, providing adequate parking always tops the list of concerns.

The in-lieu program was adopted as one means to address those concerns and encourage redevelopment.

After researching what other cities in California have done, and reviewing construction costs and the cost of land in the central commercial zone, staff recommended setting the fee at $30,000 per space.

Costs throughout the state range from $1,000 to $50,000 per stall.

While they support the program, council members had mixed reactions to the dollar number.

“It’s a very good estimate,” said Councilman Al Corti, who, as former owner of a company specializing in the development and redevelopment of major retail projects in California, has experience in the creation of parking solutions. He said the fee is fair and reasonable.

“I’m in favor of moving this along, not that I think it’s moving that fast,” Corti said. “I think it’s five years in the making.”

Mayor Terry Sinnott agreed, calling the $30,000 per stall “a very, very good number” and realistic.

“I would hope this is a way out of a bad situation where they can provide the in-lieu fee and move forward with improvements,” he said. “We’ve got to dig ourselves out of a hole and I think this is a tool that would encourage people to” do so.

Councilwoman Sherryl Parks said she would defer to Corti’s expertise in the matter, but she had reservations.

“I do want to move ahead,” she said. “This is a critical time to look at enticing businesses to come here.

“But I’m very concerned about the well-being of downtown,” she added. “My (view) is to go lightly on businesses and try to help them figure out a way to survive in our town.”

Councilman Don Mosier said he would rather see pay-and-display meters installed on Camino del Mar so visitors as well as businesses foot the bill for more parking.

“At this point in time, asking new developers to shoulder this, or people who want to intensify the use, to be the sole contributors to finance our parking plan strikes me as both not equitable and too big a disincentive for development that’s struggling anyway,” Mosier said. “I would like to see revenue distributed more equitably.”

Kathy Garcia, planning director, said the in-lieu fees wouldn’t be the sole source of financing for the parking structure.

Mosier also said building the structure on the City Hall site, as has been discussed, would “put parking where demand is not yet reached.” He said stalls are needed near the 15th Street corridor.

“Those solutions address a problem that doesn’t exist at the moment,” he said. “If there were a lot of development for the south end of town it would make more sense to invest in a parking garage.

“I need to see the comprehensive plan before I can be comfortable with this dollar amount,” he said.

Former Mayor Richard Earnest, who was part of the 2008 council that adopted the program, applauded the current council for “moving ahead with trying to undo the Gordian knot of parking that we’ve got in this town, which is, frankly, a mess.

“I see this as a step in the right direction, but only a step,” he said. “There are a number of pieces of our parking problem, if you will, or parking challenge, that need to be addressed. In-lieu fee is a reasonable way to begin to develop a parking structure or shuttle.”

But Earnest added that most Del Mar businesses are small and don’t have the backing of a large corporation to pay the fee.

“We don’t want to disincentivize businesses from coming forward and helping us with the parking issues we’ve got,” he said.

While Corti supports the in-lieu fee, he was a bit wary of the shuttle. Garcia said it is a condition of program approval from the California Coastal Commission, but it could be revisited if transit in the city improves.

That requirement kicks in when 50 new spaces are added.

Staff will work to create an ordinance that will be presented for adoption at a future meeting.

The fee will be set at $30,000 per space and include an option to finance payments over 30 years. Sinnott suggested asking property owners if they thought the amount was fair.

When the program was adopted in 2008, the interim planning director at the time said the fee would likely be in the range of $36,000 to $40,000 per space, which some landowners indicated they would be willing to pay.