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Del Mar project underway

DEL MAR — With community input from a workshop, two open houses and an online survey, City Council unanimously directed staff at the Nov. 14 meeting to create a project description for a downtown revitalization that will include reducing Camino del Mar to two lanes and adding roundabouts and wider sidewalks.
After holding a series of community conversations earlier this year, city staff developed alternatives for revitalization that were presented in workbooks during an Oct. 20 workshop and open houses the following two days.
Information presented at those events was also available in a survey posted online for a month. Participants at all the forums were asked to share their opinions in three categories: vision and goals, public realm and private development parcels.
Nearly all respondents agreed the goals of revitalization are the same as they have been since the community plan was adopted in 1976. They include maintaining the village character, increasing retail business, adding mixed-use properties, improving parking, preserving and enhancing views, reducing traffic, better pedestrian flow and providing economic vitality.
Currently, nearly 50 percent of downtown businesses are offices. Personal services make up 18 percent, while retail and restaurants represent 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
Underground parking structures, which was the highest preference, parks, residential units and boutique hotels received the strongest support as additional land uses.
Participants were given three alternatives for Camino del Mar that would all be capable of handling the same amount of traffic, according to traffic studies.
There was a strong preference to reconfigure the main downtown thoroughfare to two lanes with roundabouts instead of its current four-lane design. The other option was two northbound lanes and one southbound.
Planning Director Kathy Garcia said with the two-lane configuration, there was concern people would use residential streets to avoid the roundabouts, especially during the fair and horse races.
As for other public realm options, participants preferred 10- to 12-foot sidewalks and more outdoor cafes. There was also some interest in pocket parks and public art spaces, Garcia said.
The questions addressing floor area ratio were confusing, Garcia said, so she is discounting responses to those questions until new input can be obtained. But to create the project description Garcia said she will increase the density from 45 percent to about 100 percent.
In other private development parcel choices, there was support to increase the building height maximum to 26 feet on both sides of Camino del Mar. The current code limits heights to 14 feet on the west side of the street and 26 feet on the east side.
Many west-side buildings currently exceed the 14-foot limit, however, because they were built before the codes were adopted.
Any improvements made to those buildings would require the lower height limit, a disincentive for property owners to upgrade.
There was general support for pitches or other elements that would result in something other than flat roofs, design elements like spires, turrets or towers and second-story step-backs to allow for views or solar access.
Results were mixed when it came to parking, something that is “obviously one of the hottest issues in town,” Garcia said. There was a range of responses with a slight preference for residential permits, something the Traffic and Parking Advisory Committee has been working on.
There was a stronger preference for adding diagonal stalls and providing incentives to developers who provide public parking. Garcia said the tough part would be determining what those incentives should be.
Installing meters on Camino del Mar is “definitely not something that’s preferred by the community,” Garcia said.
Adequate parking is necessary for commercial viability, but there is limited space, she said, adding that more studies are needed.
“It all comes down to parking management,” Garcia said.
Resident Al Corti agreed. “It is one of the issues that will kill revitalization,” he said.
If parking requirements are too high, “nothing will get redeveloped,” he said, and spaces must be conveniently located.
Council members generally support eliminating onsite parking and building a parking structure.
About 107 people attended the workshop or open houses and 95 took the survey. Of the 167 who provided responses from the meetings and survey, about 75 percent were residents, 15 percent were business owners, 7 percent worked in the city and 3 percent were commercial property owners.
About 50 percent indicated they shop or dine frequently in Del Mar.
“I think you’re on the right track,” Councilwoman Lee Haydu told Garcia following her presentation.
“This whole project is about taking back this village for the residents,” Mayor Don Mosier said. “We need to get this anxiety about change addressed.”
The project description will be presented at the Dec. 12 council meeting. There will be additional opportunities for public input then and next year as Garcia and her team work to have a specific plan ready for voters during the November election.