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Council members certified the environmental impact report for the proposed City Hall complex but put off a vote on the permits for two weeks to address concerns about use of the facility and the circulation plan. Courtesy rendering
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Council approves City Hall EIR, delays vote on permits

DEL MAR — Council members at the Jan. 4 meeting certified the environmental impact report for a proposed $18 million civic center but deferred for two weeks a decision to approve the required permits.

There has been talk of building a City Hall since Del Mar became a city in 1959. Throughout the years city business was conducted in a variety of buildings, including Hotel Del Mar, the old jail and a renovated St. James Church.

The current administrative offices at 1050 Camino del Mar are located in what was once a school built in the 1920s. Parts of the building have been condemned, the roof leaks and there are no indoor restrooms for employees or visitors.

Council meetings have been held in the onsite TV studio since 1984.

Efforts to replace what many call an embarrassing structure failed in the 1990s. Discussions have been ongoing since the current campaign, which started in earnest in mid-2013.

Public input has been garnered via 42 City Council meetings, four workshops, three Design Review Board meetings, two open houses, a citizens participation program, a citywide survey, a poll and a designated page on the city website.

The proposed development includes a 9,250-square-foot City Hall, a 3,200-square-foot Town Hall that can accommodate up to 250 people, a catering kitchen, a breezeway, public viewing areas, three pads for future expansion and 149 parking stalls in a surface lot and underground structure.

The project has been modified in response to concerns about noise, light, traffic and privacy issues, especially for those in the adjacent residential neighborhood.

While many of the concerns have been addressed, several people urged council members not to certify the EIR, which after a 45-day public review period resulted in 15 comments received.

In most areas there were less than significant or no environmental impacts. Significant impacts were found in the areas of cultural resources, noise and aesthetics, but all were addressed.

“Those impacts that were identified are being mitigated,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “We’ve also had prior actions by the DRB to reduce some of the impacts and to increase the public view corridors.

“So I think the purpose of (the California Environmental Quality Act) is satisfied by this report,” he added. “The biggest concerns I have heard are about operational details that we’ll discuss later. … I think there needs to be some discussion on operational details and limits on some use that will impact the neighborhood.”

Councilman Dwight Worden agreed.

“The EIR is an informational document,” he said before the unanimous vote to certify the EIR. “It doesn’t tell us whether we should do the project or should not do the project. It tells us what the impacts are and what the alternatives are and what the mitigation measures are.

“So really our task here is just to say, ‘Is the document adequate? Does it fairly disclose the impacts of the project?’” he added. “And I’m convinced it does. But in saying that I’ve listened to the neighbors and the people’s concerns and I find some legitimacy in that. I just think that’s relevant when we get to the … permitting actions.”

Most of the light, noise and privacy concerns were addressed by the addition of a 10-foot wall and landscaping, which can reach a height of 142 feet and will be installed with input from the adjacent residents.

The two remaining controversial issues were the size of the project and the circulation plan.

City staff said residents had requested a facility that could accommodate the farmers market, so a 15,000-square-foot plaza is included, large community events and additional parking. They said the new complex will add less than 1,000 square feet of building space.

The proposed circulation plan allows vehicles to enter the new parking structure from 10th and 11th streets but they can only exit with a right turn onto 11th.

An entrance and exit to and from the surface lot from 11th Street will be gated except during special events or to accommodate large vehicles. Access to the lot will be from inside the garage.

Residents such as Suren Dutia said the current plan, which includes two entrance and exit points on 10th Street and one on 11th, has worked well for years so it should not be changed.

Council members and the traffic engineer said the only entrance to the upper parking lot, which is closer to City Hall, is from 10th Street. Many visitors enter there but exit onto 11th because vehicles can’t turn left, or north, onto Camino del Mar from 10th Street, which also has a steep incline.

They said the current situation works, but it is not the safest or preferred alternative. It also can force cars into the residential neighborhoods.

Mosier and Councilman Al Corti looked at two additional alternatives but neither was feasible, Mosier said.

But they agreed to meet with residents, traffic engineers hired by both the city and residents to “turn the rock over one more time” to see if there is another circulation plan that could work.

Council is expected to vote on the design review, coastal development, land conservation and tree removal permits at the Jan. 19 meeting.

They will also discuss how the facility will be used. Many residents expressed concerns about allowing private events to take place there. They said it should be limited to city-sponsored and community events.