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Council OKs program for revitalization

DEL MAR — In a continuing effort to revitalize the downtown area, City Council agreed at the March 22 meeting to establish a pilot program that will address parking and sign issues on Camino del Mar between 12th and 15th streets.
Council members were also unanimous in their decision not to allocate $3,000 for a traffic engineer to complete an environmental study — even though funds are available in the budget — fearing it would be a waste of money and send the wrong message to residents about future revitalization plans.
The idea behind a pilot program is to create an “urban laboratory,” or an area where measurable effects can be studied, without major funding expenditures, said Brian Mooney, interim planning and community development director.
“I think it’s of value to us to take a focused area and really look at some options and alternatives that will allow us to work with the businesses to improve the economic elements of the community,” he said.
The original proposal included creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment by reducing the southbound side of Camino del Mar to one lane and adding angled parking.
But due to concerns about how travel lanes and parking space configurations would alter traffic flows, those plans were deferred until more data is available. As part of that process, staff will review the progress of similar projects now being considered in Solana Beach and Encinitas.
The pilot program focus was expanded to include valet parking as a means to satisfy required parking ratios and the creation of flexible signage standards.
“I really was looking at a wide range of opportunities that I felt were being impacted by existing … rules and regulations,” Mooney said.
He described valet parking, which is being used successfully at Del Mar Plaza, as a tool that will allow businesses to expand while meeting existing requirements. Mooney said En Fuego and Zel’s restaurants have expressed interest in participating in a valet parking program, which would also offer options to a commercial property owner he spoke with who has potential new tenants but an insufficient number of parking spaces.
As for signage, Mooney said he would work with council members under an administrative design review process to provide business owners in the pilot program area with affordable, relaxed requirements to improve illegal and blighted signs.
He said the owners of Clone Duplicating & Printing want to change their sign but it would cost approximately $3,000 under the existing ordinance.
Mooney said he would monitor the effects of the changes through sales tax revenue and the decrease in vacancies.
“Anything that we can do to revitalize downtown is fine as long as we’re not spending a whole lot of money,” Councilman Don Mosier said, adding that he didn’t want to fund the traffic engineer because he didn’t think the city received “a lot of value for the money” already spent.
“This information is not useful to me,” he said.
Because the original plans included a traffic element, they were subject to environmental review. Staff prepared a mitigated negative declaration, which was available for public review from Dec. 31, 2009, to Feb. 3, 2010. During that time, one comment letter was received from the
22nd District Agricultural Association requesting additional information on land use and planning, air quality and transportation and circulation.
Although the traffic element has been deferred, Mooney suggested completing the environmental document in case council decided to move forward with it later. Completing the review later down the line would likely result in additional expenses, however, the study may need to be redone anyway if and when plans to expand the Del Mar Fairgrounds are approved.
Councilman Carl Hilliard said city officials agreed to defer the traffic element “because there was so much confusion and misinformation out there about it.”
“I think if we authorize the expenditure of $3,000, we’re sending a message, ‘Just kidding folks. We’re going to go forward with this anyway,’“ he said. “So I wouldn’t do it.”