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Council members agree the North Bluff Preserve should remain as natural as possible as plans for a luxury resort on an adjacent lot move through the development process. Courtesy photo
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Del Mar opts for low-key improvements of North Bluff Preserve

When it comes to the protection, enhancement and potential improvement of the North Bluff Preserve, city council members all agreed less is more during an April 2 meeting.

“It’s not meant to be a place for people to come and recreate,” Councilwoman Ellie Haviland said, following an April 2 council meeting. “It’s meant to be a place for people to come and have passive use.”

The 4.5-acre parcel is zoned as parkland and identified in the community plan as a passive recreational area. Council members have been discussing upgrades that could be included in a specific plan that, if approved, will be used to develop an upscale, blufftop resort on adjacent property currently zoned residential.

In earlier meetings, council asked staff to explore ways to meet the current and future needs of residents and visitors by adding accessible pathways, restrooms or safety facilities, while keeping use of the public property passive and as natural as possible.

The preserve is currently accessed up the slope from North Beach by the remnants of a former driveway that once served a home at the top of the bluff. The old driveway is steep and poorly maintained, shows sluffing and bluff erosion and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Many users stray from the pathway and create informal “goat paths” that disturb and degrade the topography and native vegetation and increase erosion of the bluff face. At the top of the bluff are a series of compacted dirt paths, with additional “shortcut” paths established by users leading to the southwest viewpoint. A few benches are at the bluff edge.

The northwestern portion of the preserve is fenced off and inaccessible to the public, based on an earlier agreement between the city and the property owner. This portion is flat, has ornamental vegetation and a series of paths and overlooks closed to the public.

Currently, a chain link fence and dense vegetation separate the preserve from the private residences. At the beach, portable toilets are available for beach and preserve users.

There has been a desire to improve the preserve for passive recreation with an access trail along the base of the bluff so it connects with parking along Camino del Mar. There is also a need for a temporary lifeguard tower.

Presented with three alternatives for improvements, including one that essentially maintained the preserve as is, council members preferred the option that provided an opportunity to fully restore the entire south face to native habitat by removing all vertical access.

It combines the adjacent development’s proposal for vertical access and beach restrooms with public facilities that serve both.

Blufftop access would be moved to the east onto private property. Through potential agreements with the owners of the resort property, access to the top of the bluff could be provided by building a stairway that would meet up with the coastal access path at the top of the preserve.

According to the staff report, the stairs could be added with minimal impact to the steep slopes and would allow direct access to the existing pathway leading to the preserve’s southwest viewpoint.

They could be designed to restrict people from cutting through the preserve and creating erosion, thus allowing for the greatest control of access and prevention of slope erosion.

ADA-compliant access between the blufftop public access path or the top of the preserve and North Beach below could be via the existing Camino del Mar and Border Avenue sidewalks.

Existing pathways that bisect the southern face of the preserve could be removed, and native vegetation could be restored along the slope in this area. Nonnative and invasive species would be replaced. A permanent restroom would replace the portable toilets.

A viewpoint at the top will be maintained but not developed with any structures or facilities other than simple benches. Low-key plaques educating visitors about the history of the area could also be added.

The final plans will be reviewed by the Planning Commission, Design Review Board, and Parks and Recreation and San Dieguito Lagoon committees before receiving approval by City Council.