DEL MAR — As Election Day steadily approaches, the 941 Camino Del Mar Specific Plan awaits a thumbs up, or a thumbs down from voters.
The mixed-use development — slated for the long-blighted property on Del Mar’s southern edge — was approved 4-1 by City Council at the Oct. 15 meeting. The action was the last major stamp of approval needed at the city level to move forward with the project, although residents will determine the ultimate outcome with a vote on Measure T in November.
The decision followed a De Novo Hearing in which longtime resident Karen Powell appealed the Design Review Board’s decision to conditionally approve the project in August. Powell called the current design a “big box building that invade(s) residential views.”
Since 2013, Powell has lived in a home on 10th Street directly behind the parcel where Kitchell Development Company plans to build a two-story, 34,890-square-foot development. The site would include eight residential units and 4,398 square feet of commercial space.
The asphalt lot, currently occupied by a vacant office-building and strewn with overgrown weeds, has frequently been referred to as an “eyesore” by residents. Otherwise referred to as the “old gas station property,” the 25,500-square-foot parcel almost saw its salvation in 2008, when voters approved the specific plan of a project called Garden Del Mar. However, the project’s developer declared bankruptcy, and it was never built.
In July of 2018, the City Council approved the 941 Camino Del Mar Specific Plan, thus repealing the preexisting Garden Del Mar Specific Plan. Council approved the new plan as a ballot measure in August.
The city’s approval processes would be nullified if residents vote “no” on Measure T in November. If residents vote “yes” to approve the 941 Camino Del Mar Specific Plan, the project will be submitted as an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program and await approval by the California Coastal Commission.
Powell, who filed an appeal of the Design Review Board’s decision in early September, is among one of three neighbors whose views would be significantly impacted by the development. Representatives with Kitchell Development Company and Starck Architecture & Planning defended the design at the hearing, listing changes made based on community feedback such as reduced number of units and diminished height — putting the current height at or below the 26-foot mark met by the previous Garden Del Mar project.
As a result, Powell would still have a blue-water view, though her view of the street area would be almost entirely erased.
In a phone interview with The Coast News, Powell said she would have favored the Garden Del Mar’s plan, which included in its design an open-air plaza in the northwest corner that would have preserved more of her view. Although she supports downtown revitalization, she referred to the current plan as a “transfer of view from one person to another.”
Chris Underhill, who has lived in his house on 10th Street for nearly four decades, spoke against the “massive project” during the public comment portion of the hearing. The story poles — which have since been removed — could be seen in nearly their full scope from his living room, demonstrating a complete blockage of his ocean view.
In an email to The Coast News, Underhill expressed his concern that the project’s zoning regulations would “eliminate” — in effect — the Municipal Code ordinance protecting his rights to a scenic view. A specific plan is not required to follow municipal code, since it “creates its own code,” said Evan Langan, the city’s associate planner.
The City Council denied Powell’s appeal and went forward with approving the permits, which include a Design Review Permit, a Coastal Development Permit and a Land Conservation Permit. Councilman Dave Druker voted against the approval.
“I believe that the bulk and mass could’ve been modified so it wouldn’t be so imposing over Camino Del Mar,” Druker said, when contacted by The Coast News. “They could’ve changed the design to provide a better view for the neighbors.”
Councilman Terry Sinnott said that public benefit of the project “far outweighs” the issue of obscured views, and sees the mixed-use development as “the wave of the future for our downtown.”
“Exceptional public benefit” is a stipulation of a specific plan, and in the case of 941 Camino Del Mar, this would include revenue in the form of transient occupancy tax, financial contributions to several downtown revitalization projects, and the installation of two affordable housing units — which would help the city fulfill its currently empty stock of low-income housing options.
Councilwoman Ellie Haviland thinks the project will fit well in the downtown area, and said the “view take” was not “unreasonable,” if it could be considered a view take at all.
“Having a development on that site is not a view take,” she said. “It’s a reasonable expectation when you have a vacant lot in front of you that at some point, something will be built on that.”