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City OKs table service at plaza, delays parking solution

DEL MAR — City Council unanimously approved a request to expand service to allowable outdoor dining areas in Del Mar Plaza, but deferred a decision about using valet service to meet required parking ratios until more information is presented and the public has a chance to weigh in.
According to the Del Mar Plaza specific plan, the maximum allowable indoor and outdoor dining area is set at 14,400 square feet. Only self-service from restaurants is allowed at outside tables, which can take up no more than 25 percent of the designated public plaza area.
The existing establishments currently use about 10,000 square feet of the indoor and outdoor areas and less than 5 percent of the public space. Il Fornaio and Shimbashi Izakaya, the new Japanese restaurant, have requested full use of the areas as allowed under the specific plan “to confront the economic challenges of the current recession.”
To do so, they must provide parking at a ratio of one space for every 100 square feet. The property owner was seeking approval for use of on-site valet parking services to meet those additional requirements.
Michael Harth, president of Sunset Parking Service, estimates valet parking could increase the garage capacity from its current 403 single-stall spaces to 577, which would exceed the new parking requirements. He also said valet parking wouldn’t be mandatory but acknowledged it would make finding a parking space in the garage difficult.
The staff report states the request doesn’t include physical changes to the property. The only minor deviation is that the specific plan prohibits table service — a provision that makes monitoring alcohol consumption difficult, according to the Alcoholic Beverage Control. The center of the plaza would remain open public space, as stipulated in the specific plan.
Interim Planning Director Brain Mooney said because the requests are consistent with the existing specific plan, council approval is not required, however, he presented the item because minor deviations have historically been reviewed by council members. He said in most cities, the interpretation of the specific plan is made by the Planning Department.
John Kerridge, vice chairman of the Planning Commission and the only resident to address council on the item, disagreed.
“I believe that this should have come to the Planning Commission.” Kerridge said. “I don’t think it’s quite as straight forward as Mr. Mooney made it seem.
“I think the word interpretation here is a semantic minefield because, in fact, this is an interpretation that’s going to lead to action.” Kerridge said the open space was provided as an exceptional public benefit in exchange for the project being built.
“I don’t think that public space … should just be traded away to make life easier for the Alcohol and Beverage Commission, which is what it boils down to here,” he said. “At the least the Del Mar public should get a say in whether their public space will be used to facilitate the operation of the (ABC).” Kerridge also said valet parking should be voluntary.
Councilman Mark Filanc agreed. “This is a sensitive subject,” he said. “I think that we’re trying to speed it up to make it happen quickly, and I’m not sure that I am prepared to jump through the hoops to make that happen without having some additional public discussion because I think parking is a huge issue here.”
After a thorough review of the specific plan, Councilman Carl Hilliard said he supported the requests. “It makes perfect sense to me … to allow that to happen,” he said.
Council opted to approve the expanded service request and address the valet parking issue at a future meeting without sending it to the Planning Commission for review.