Fairgrounds extends comment period for expansion plans

COAST CITIES — The 22nd District Agricultural Association spread some last minute holiday cheer when it announced on its Web site a few days before Christmas that comments on the master plan and draft environmental impact report for an expansion project at the Del Mar Fairgrounds will now be accepted through Feb. 8.
The extension gives area legislators, jurisdictions, residents and organizations an additional 30 days to submit written comments on the 4,500-page document.
The 22nd DAA, which manages and operates the fairgrounds, is proposing several improvements to the 340-acre site that would be completed during the next 15 years. Near-term plans include a 330-room condominium hotel with an 18,000-square-foot ballroom and parking facilities for 58 RVs, new exhibit halls with underground parking and three rooftop sports fields, a health club and administrative offices. The east parking lot would be paved and the existing fire station relocated.
Long-term projects call for a multilevel parking structure and a seasonal train platform.
The public review period, which began Oct. 9, was required to remain open for at least 45 days. Given the size of the document and the scope of the project, fairgrounds officials opted to double that. So far, public discussions about the project have been less than favorable.
Opponents say the expansion will create more noise, traffic and pollution than the area can handle. They claim plans to mitigate those problems are not adequately addressed in the EIR. There are also concerns the project will negatively impact the $86 million restoration of the adjacent San Dieguito Lagoon.
In Del Mar, where most of the facility is located, city officials assigned portions of the document to various departments. Based on their expertise, staff members are reviewing and commenting on different sections. The city also created a nine-member citizens ad hoc committee to review the plans.
In neighboring Solana Beach, a technical team comprising in-house staff was formed and a mailer was sent to residents encouraging them to submit comments. Council members also authorized a $75,000 expenditure for additional technical expertise to review the report.
Fairgrounds officials decided to extend the deadline after receiving written requests to do so from state Sen. Christine Kehoe, San Diego City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner and Del Mar.
Del Mar Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum said the city had previously been denied an extension. He said he learned of the new deadline from the Web site and via a letter from the 22nd DAA.
“The extension does allow the city more time to review and prepare comments on this lengthy document,” Birnbaum said. The revised schedule also gives the citizens ad hoc committee a greater opportunity to prepare its recommendation letter to City Council, he said.
Solana Beach City Manager David Ott said he received a phone message from a fairgrounds representative notifying him about the new deadline, which he called helpful but not necessary.
“We were ready, but (we) will use the additional time to further refine our comments,” he said.
The extension is good news for smaller groups with limited resources, such as the local chapter of The Sierra Club. A representative from that organization, seeking support for an extension from Del Mar City Council, told council members last month that one person would have to read and comment on 50 pages per day, seven days a week throughout the holiday season to get through the entire document.
Input will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Feb. 8. The 22nd DAA is required to respond to every written comment before it certifies the EIR. Funding for the massive project is not yet secured. Visit www.sdfair.com for more information and to view the document.

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