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Del Mar council approves first two sidewalk cafe permits

DEL MAR — Less than six months after adopting an ordinance that streamlines the process for adding outdoor eating areas in the downtown area, City Council unanimously approved two applications for sidewalk cafes at the Jan. 20 meeting.
Jimmy O’s on 15th Street is proposing a 377-square-foot outdoor cafe that will extend 12 feet from the existing building face. Americana Cafe’s outdoor seating area on 15th Street will be enlarged to 537 square feet, with improvements but
no expansion proposed for the sidewalk cafe on Camino del Mar.
“I … am very excited about this, not only for Jimmy O’s, but for Del Mar in general,” Jimmy O’s owner, Keith Nordling, said. “We need this.”
The staff recommendation to approve both projects came with a lengthy list of conditions, including a $5,000 upfront fee to cover the potential cost of any increase in law enforcement services that may be required as a result of the cafes. Council members opposed the requirement and ultimately deleted the condition.
Councilman Carl Hilliard said he wasn’t sure they should assume the sidewalk cafes are going to be a problem. Nordling was happy with the decision, but said he was willing to pay the fee “and do whatever I need to do to make this happen.”
“I would always rather pay $5,000 later than now,” Nordling said. “If the sidewalk cafe is causing problems and the police have to come down there a bunch … I will reimburse the city for that extra cost.”
Nordling said he didn’t anticipate the sidewalk cafe creating problems that would require additional law enforcement, especially since another condition prohibits the sale or consumption of alcohol in the area before 9 a.m. and after 10 p.m.
Rick Ehrenfeld, one of only two residents to address council, said he would prefer that the outdoor cafes not be used at all after 10 p.m., but Nordling said he plans to continue food service until his kitchen closes at midnight.
“That’s why we (are building) this sidewalk café,” Nordling said. “We’re trying to attract diners,” not drinkers.
Council members said they would revisit the alcohol ordinance to try to accommodate a request from Randy Gruber, owner of Americana Cafe, to serve alcohol from the time the restaurant opens at 7 a.m. Gruber said some of his customers enjoy an early morning cocktail with brunch. His liquor license allows indoor alcohol service beginning at 6 a.m.
Nordling said he also had no problem with a requirement that prohibits smoking in the sidewalk cafes.
“I love that,” Nordling said. He told council members if his customers complain, “I’m just going to blame you all. We’ll make more people happy not (allowing) smoking than we make happy by letting them.”
Hilliard said the 70-plus conditions were excessive, redundant and potentially a waste of staff time, especially since many are included in the existing ordinance. “Repeating them as special conditions seems to be disingenuous,” he said. “It just seems to me to be over the top.”
The city attorney said that while some may seem “nonsensical,” they are included because they are either state-mandated or general conditions required for any construction project.
Jim Watkins, owner of the building that houses both restaurants, said the goal of the community plan he helped develop more than 30 years ago was to create a pedestrian friendly, walking community. “But not much has been done to enhance that,” Watkins said. “I think this will do more to regenerate the life of Del Mar … and energize the whole community as far as the redevelopment.”
“I like the project,” Councilman Mark Filanc said. “I think it is a move in the right direction.”
During a public hearing last summer, before he was elected to council, Don Mosier called the sidewalk cafe ordinance “premature and ill-considered.”
“My objection at the time had to do with the lack of ordinances covering public impacts and the low cost recovery for leasing of public spaces,” said Mosier, who voted to approve both projects in part because of the economic downturn and “the need to get started on downtown revitalization.”
Mosier said he also liked that the applicants must report back to council in six months. “Without this right of review, I would have been reluctant to vote for the projects,” he said. Permits are valid for three years.
Based on a council-approved user fee of $2 per square foot, Jimmy O’s and Americana will pay annual assessments of $754 and $1,074, respectively. The money will be used for downtown streetscape improvements. Staff said applications from two other restaurants could be presented to council as early as next month.