Del Mar starts process to mold specific plan

DEL MAR — About 60 residents attending an Oct. 20 workshop to garner public input for downtown revitalization agreed that fewer lanes, wider sidewalks, roundabouts, increased building heights and a new formula to determine density are elements that could help draw visitors to the area and make it more pedestrian friendly.
Participants were divided into groups at seven tables for discussions that were facilitated by City Council or staff members.
Following a brief introduction by Planning Director Kathy Garcia, each group discussed nine criteria — three at a time — to improve 15th Street and the area along Camino del Mar from Ninth Street north to Del Mar Plaza and L’Auberge resort.
The goal is to adopt a specific plan, a set of development standards and implementation tools that apply to a particular geographic area. The process, which requires voter approval, allows development flexibility for each site.
The project area currently includes 62 commercial sites and three public facilities, as well as three existing specific plans that will not be affected.
About 50 percent is office space, 18 percent is dedicated to personal service businesses and 16 percent is retail. Restaurants, which generate more than 50 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue, make up 13 percent.
Participants at each table did not need to come to a general agreement, although most did. They were asked to complete a worksheet with their individual opinions at the end of the workshop.
Most agreed with the goals of revitalization, which included encouraging quality resident-oriented businesses that serve the local community.
“It’s hard to argue that,” Richard Levak said.
Other goals are to minimize vehicular impacts, maintain architectural design and encourage low-cost housing. Art Olson said attention should be called to historic buildings.
In addition to measuring success by economic prosperity, such as an increase in sales tax and the number of businesses redeveloping, some people said the number of Del Mar residents using downtown services and businesses should be tracked.
Participants were given three options to reconfigure Camino del Mar: the existing four lanes, two northbound lanes and one southbound or one lane in each direction with roundabouts instead of stop signs.
Traffic studies indicate the roadway could accommodate existing traffic with one lane in each direction, which would allow for wider sidewalks and more parking, Garcia said.
“I doubt it, personally, but if it’s true, that would be fine,” Zelda Waxenberg said.
“They need to validate that it would work,” Al Corti said.
In terms of development issues, nearly everyone agreed the .45 floor area ratio currently being used to determine the maximum size a building can be should be changed.
With that calculation, an 8,000-square-foot lot could only accommodate 3,600 square feet of building. Some residents called the calculation “ridiculous” and “unrealistic.”
Many said the 14-foot height limit on the west side of Camino del Mar should also be adjusted as long as views are not interrupted. Many buildings currently exceed the height limit because they were built before it was established.
Those property owners who want to improve their buildings would have to reduce the size, which would be too costly, they say.
Parking was also supposed to be addressed but most groups said they ran out of time in the two-hour workshop.
Open houses during which the material was presented were held Oct. 21 and Oct. 22. Residents can also view the handbook and take a survey online at delmar.ca.
Alternatives presented were developed following a series of community conversations earlier this year. The goal is to have all aspects of the specific plan completed in time for the November election. The city is currently on schedule for that deadline, Garcia said.

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