DEL MAR — The developers behind the controversial Del Mar Resort plan have come back to the table with a redesign — a project 40% smaller than what was originally proposed.
Residents will soon have a chance to weigh in on whether the newly revised plan will move forward. Developers will circulate a petition in August to put the project to a vote.
Local developers Zephyr Partners and Robert Green Company originally proposed a 251-room hotel and 76 villas for a 16.5-acre blufftop lot on the corner of Via de la Valle and Border Avenue — a plan that received heaping criticism from both Del Mar and Solana Beach residents.
The large oceanfront property has long been vacant and gated off from public access. The developers currently have long-term options on the lot’s seven parcels.
After months of gathering community feedback, the developers introduced a redesign in mid-July called “Marisol” — a project with 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas, a spa, café, restaurant, gardens, and a public, 1.25-mile walking trail that connects to the North Beach Preserve trail.
“We think we have responded to everybody’s concerns in a big, big way, not just token,” said developer Robert Green.
However, many locals are still wary about the project. The new design has already generated over 100 comments on social media platform NextDoor, with residents debating the merits of the plan. The developers have held several small community meetings so far to present the redesign to locals.
Del Mar resident Carla Hayes — who started a petition in the fall opposing the project — said she is dismayed that the maximum height of the project’s buildings will still approach 46 feet toward the middle of the property. The proposed height has been a major point of contention with residents.
“The 46 feet is unacceptable,” Hayes said, adding that the resort still looks “as large as it ever was,” based on the renderings.
Green said the quantity of three-story structures approaching the 46-foot height is “significantly less” than that of the original design. There are about 20 buildings incorporated in the new design — the hotel would sit toward the southern portion of the property.
The villas would each have two to three lock-off units, creating the potential to convert villas to hotel rooms and generate a total of 146 hotel rooms (if all villas were converted). Just over 400 parking stalls will be on site, in an underground parking garage.
The minimum setback from any part of the property is 40 feet. Green said developers have been working with California Coastal Commission staff and geologists to determine a proper setback — particularly from the area’s fragile bluffs.
“At the end of the day, (Coastal Commission) is going to tell us what our setback is going to be,” he said. “ … we don’t want to have a situation where we have a failure on the bluff.”
The developers would also construct 22 affordable housing units, fulfilling the number of low income and very low income units the state allocated to Del Mar for its current housing cycle. The new project would also generate $4.5 million each year in transient occupancy taxes for the city. The original project would have generated upwards of $8 million.
According to Green, the new project would be catered to frequent individual travelers, rather than larger groups — its original intent. He said the revised plans incorporate less meeting space, but would still be suitable for smaller events such as anniversaries or weddings.
The developers’ aim is to attract not only hotel guests, but the community at large.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” Green said. “It should be accessible to everyone.”
The lot is currently zoned for single-family residences, and could accommodate roughly 18 homes at a maximum height of 26 feet. The developers are opting for a specific plan, which would up the zoning allowances of the property. But a specific plan also requires the developer provide certain public benefits.
For example, the developers are proposing that a percentage of guests’ room rates will go toward sand replenishment — a major adaptation measure in Del Mar for dealing with sea-level rise. They are also proposing an eco-shuttle in order to transport visitors and community members between the resort and downtown Del Mar and Solana Beach.
The developers will be putting the project’s specific plan to the community as a citizens initiative. The project’s specific plan — which has yet to be released — will be presented along with the initiative in the next few weeks. If the initiative gains the requisite number of signatures, Del Mar residents will be able to vote on the resort’s specific plan.
“This comes down to a really, really simple choice for the voters in Del Mar,” Green said. “If we don’t build this project, then what we will build on this site is roughly 18 very large, private, gate-guarded custom homes … we think this is a much better alternative.”
But for some residents, having homes under the 26-foot current height limit is preferable to a resort. Brian Feingold, a Solana Beach resident whose view looks down onto the vacant lot, said he would prefer large homes on the bluff over the density and bulk created by a resort.
“Our whole thing is, just keep zoning as is,” he said. “ … It just means it’s another 14 to 16 families that come in, it’s not going to have any impact on traffic or our lifestyles.”
Del Mar Mayor Dave Druker said he supports the project going to a public vote, but otherwise is waiting until the environmental impact report and specific plan come out in order to opine on the project.
Green said he anticipates the project’s draft environmental impact report will come out in early fall.
When the project’s story poles were first erected on the site in August 2018, citizens started community groups and petitions opposing the project, expressing concerns over height, bulk, congestion, and impacts to the bluff.
Many Solana Beach residents worried about how a view onto the resort from their hillside homes would impact property values. Community feedback led the Solana Beach City Council to unanimously pass a resolution opposing re-zoning the site to a higher density, “that would negatively impact the city of Solana Beach and its residents.”
Del Martians, particularly in the nearby beach colony area, were largely concerned about crowds and traffic generated by a large resort project, and how a resort might impact the neighboring North Beach Preserve.
The developers will be opening up an informational center in Del Mar within the next two months to show renderings and help answer residents’ questions.
Photo Caption: Renderings show a view looking northward onto the potential Marisol project. Developers recently came back with a redesign after the community opposed its originally proposed resort with 251 hotel rooms and 76 villas. Photo courtesy of Zephyr Partners.
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.