DEL MAR – City Council approved an amended Del Mar Plaza specific plan at an Aug. 5 council meeting, intended to help the shopping center get back on its feet after years of absentee ownership and declining income.
Crafted by plaza owners and Del Mar locals Marc and Patty Brutten of Brixton Capital, the amendments aim to bring new life to the 30-plus-year-old specific plan. Some of the alterations are meant to facilitate use of the plaza’s sorely underutilized quasi-public spaces, and mitigate certain limitations related to signage and parking, among other fixes.
It also aims to increase flexibility, raising the current cap on restaurant spaces from six to nine, allowing a handful of outdoor retail kiosks, and allowing more tenant spaces to be used for office uses.
The specific plan was approved by voters in the late 1980s, after facing years of fierce opposition from Del Martians. With its European architecture and open-air layout, it quickly became a hit with locals in the ‘90s. But it has since fallen from its glory days, particularly after several shifts in ownership — Marc Brutten’s firm Brixton Capital took over the property in 2017.
As a small, 75,000-square-foot multi-use commercial center, it has been hard-pressed to compete with much larger shopping malls in the surrounding community. But according to plaza representative Adam Birnbaum, the plaza has also been burdened by its now somewhat “archaic” specific plan.
“There really needs to be some change,” said Birnbaum. “Without these amendments, the fiscal health is really dire.”
Changes to the specific plan have been in the works for over a year, with plaza owners receiving an approval from the city’s Planning Commission in June. Residents have been vocally in support of the amendments, with many hopeful the plaza will once again become a bustling community centerpiece.
Several spoke at the meeting to encourage the council to approve the plaza owners’ proposed amendments.
“I want to urge you to give them the maximum flexibility to try to do what we all want them to do, which is to make this project successful,” said David Malmuth.
The amendment sets parameters for use of the plaza’s four quasi-public spaces, establishing a master temporary use program to help facilitate and streamline the planning of events on site. It caps limited access events at 45 per quarter, and opens up event availability to nonprofits six times per quarter.
The applicant also proposed maintaining a 200-square-foot “scenic viewing area” on the plaza’s main upper deck, with an allowance for it to be closed up to eight times a year for private events.
Betty Wheeler, an active resident and volunteer with the Del Mar Foundation, requested the council make sure to uphold the “exceptional public benefit” clause that is fundamental to the specific plan.
“As long as you incorporate provisions that adequately protect the free public and community uses envisioned by the original Plaza Specific Plan, I think these efforts should be welcomed and approved,” she said. “ … Interest in community uses for these spaces will be there if the process is streamlined rather than full of barriers.”
The amended specific plan would also allow current plaza tenants — particularly those less visible to passersby — to bring their signage to the street level. The previous specific plan prohibited businesses from placing signage “beyond their individual lease space,” according to the staff report.
The owners are incorporating a site specific parking management plan in order to accommodate the proposed increases in flexibility, particularly when it comes to restaurants. The former specific plan required one parking spot per 300 square feet of commercial space and one spot for every 100 feet of restaurant space.
The parking lot currently has 411 spaces, which Birnbaum called an “excess number” of spaces. The owners have assessed the demand at 285 spaces, or one space per 300 square feet, using a blend of all uses.
Brixton Capital will be bringing in two new restaurants in the near future, a restaurant by local group Social Syndicate in the former Epazote space, and Tamarindo Latin Kitchen + Bar in the former Smashburger space.
Lexy Brodt covers all things Del Mar and Solana Beach for The Coast News, with a primary interest in coastal development. A North County native turned UW-Madison alumna, she has produced for Wisconsin Public Radio and reported for The San Diego Union-Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal.