DEL MAR — Plans to replace City Hall cleared a major hurdle on Dec. 16 when the Design Review Board voted to recommend approval despite objections from more than half a dozen nearby residents.
The DRB, as it is known, was tasked with evaluating the project to ensure it follows the rules that govern design standards in the city. If members determined areas did not comply with any provisions of the design review ordinance they were required to cite the violating conditions.
The proposed complex includes a 9,250-square-foot City Hall with administrative offices for staff, a 3,200-square-foot Town Hall, 160 public parking spaces in a surface lot and two-story below-grade parking structure and a 15,000-square-foot public plaza.
In response to requests from many residents it also featured areas for future expansion and spaces where people could gather.
A large Town Hall was also something people asked to be included because they said existing city-owned facilities such as Powerhouse Community Center limit the size of community events.
During workshops and the citizens participation program — a process created to foster community input on development proposals early in the DRB process — residents who live adjacent to or near the project site at 1050 Camino del Mar expressed concerns about privacy, increased traffic leading to light and glare, the overall size of the facility and the circulation plan.
A proposed 2,700-square-foot terrace located to the south of the new City Hall building was creating problems as homeowners to the west of the site said it would result in people looking directly into their living areas and bedrooms.
In response, council members at their Dec. 7 meeting agreed to reduce the size of the terrace to 300 square feet, add a gate to limit access mainly to employees during City Hall hours and increase the size of the plantings.
“It really is huge and it is a very serious privacy encroachment on a number of neighbors,” Councilman Dwight Worden said about the terrace. “There are alternatives that are feasible to meet all our objectives without having that be an active area.
“We’re asking the neighbors to put up with a lot by just having this big project,” he added. “Anywhere that we can make life better for them and still meet our objectives I think we should do it.”
DRB members said the larger terrace was inconsistent with the DRO because it created an unreasonable invasion of privacy. Their recommendation to approve the project was contingent on the reduced terrace size.
Plans on vehicular ingress and egress also created controversy, but council and DRB members opted to go with a proposal recommended by the traffic engineer.
That plan allows vehicles to enter the new parking structure from 10th and 11th streets but they can only exit with a right turn onto 11th.
Current access to the site includes two entrance and exit points on 10th Street and one on 11th.
Suren Dutia, who lives on 11th Street directly across from City Hall, said the two driveways on 10th and one on 11th have worked well for about 30 years.
“Why flip it?” he asked. “We respectfully and strongly oppose the change because we think it’s going to create havoc and dangerous conditions in front of our homes.”
Cars will be able to go in and out of a surface lot on the western portion of the site from 11th Street but only for certain events and not during regular City Hall business hours. The surface lot can be accessed from the garage at other times.
DRB members approved the circulation plan with the conditions that cars exiting onto 11th Street must turn right and a gate is installed to control use of the surface lot.
The traffic engineer recommended the plan because 10th Street has a steep slope at the top where it meets Camino del Mar, and cars can only enter that roadway going south. Eleventh Street has a four-way controlled stop sign, allowing drivers safer and easier access to Camino del Mar.
Some residents also questioned the need for such a large facility. In response, City Manager Scott Huth told DRB members the net increase with the new structures is 956 square feet.
He said the city agreed to work closely with nearby residents so the landscaping and wall heights provide as much privacy as possible.
As part of the recommendation for approval, DRB members asked the city to consider the ramifications of frequent use of the site. They also noted a preference to limit use to nonprofit organizations and city events.
In an email to city officials, Dutia said he “always supported the idea of building a state-of-the-art City Hall.”
“We no longer support the project,” he said as he left the meeting immediately following the decision to recommend approval.