DEL MAR – A ballot measure that would have paved the way for a luxury, bluff-top resort in Del Mar failed during the March 3 primary.
Although the final results are still pending, as of March 9, 1,270 residents (59.40%) voted “no,” with 868 (40.60%) voting “yes.” The turnout was 2,175 votes – Del Mar, the smallest city in the county, has about 4,300 residents.
The Marisol resort, proposed by developers Zephyr and Robert Green Company, would have brought 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas, 22 affordable housing units, a spa, café, restaurant and a walking trail to the largely vacant, 16.5-acre bluff off of Via de la Valle and Border Avenue. The design has been in the works for years, with developers proposing a significantly larger project in 2017.
In the summer of 2019, the developers opted to let the voters decide on a zoning change that would have expanded use allowances of the property and carved a clear path forward for the resort, in a ballot initiative labeled Measure G. The developer’s campaign largely focused on the potential for public access – allowing visitors and residents to walk along a bluff that has long been gated off.
A “yes” vote would have created a specific plan overlay on a property that is currently zoned for very low and modified low-density housing, and amended the city’s municipal code accordingly. The new overlay essentially allows developers to set their own zoning limitations for the site, bringing more flexibility to the design process.
For many, this potential wiggle room caused plenty of doubt and concern – particularly for some Solana Beach residents, who, in many cases, had more at stake than Del Martians.
“They were looking to build a box, in which they could build inside and limit the control of the Design Review Board,” said Solana Beach resident Brian Feingold, whose view stood to be impacted by the project.
Feingold and many other impassioned residents embarked on the grassroots “No on G” campaign a few months before the primary election, posting signs around town, protesting on street corners and making door-to-door rounds to appeal to Del Mar residents. The opposing campaigns were not without their fair share of contention – with both sides often accusing the other of using misinformation or scare tactics.
Along the way, the “No on G” campaign gathered more and more supporters – with Del Mar City Councilmember Dave Druker and Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland voicing their opposition to the project.
Gaasterland said she felt obligated on a moral level to help the residents in their “No on G” campaign, particularly after studying the site and realizing that the zoning change in question would “allow something way too big.” Residents took particular issue with the proposed height – capped at 46 feet — and parking allowances – about 400 – particularly due to the fragile nature of the bluffs in Del Mar.
“This was certainly not what I meant when I said this should go to a vote of the people,” she said, referring to her election campaign in 2018, adding that she supported “the entire project going to a vote.”
Although the project would have still required some discretionary approvals if the vote had passed, it would have typically required planning commission approval and a 4/5 vote by the city council.
“Whether or not the developers intended, doing it by a ballot initiative makes it very difficult for your average person in Del Mar to tune in and cast a vote,” said Gaasterland, pointing out that the city’s various public hearings and other checks and balances force developers to “pay attention to the impacts” of their projects.
Leading up to the election, local environmental groups also expressed concerns about the project’s draft Environmental Impact Report – which was meant to gauge the project’s potential adverse effects. The Surfrider Foundation posted a review in early February calling the DEIR’s setback estimates “far too optimistic,” and asserting that the document fails to use the most recent studies of geologic erosion.
The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority also spoke out against the project, pointing out that the current zoning overlays are meant to protect the bluff and area resources.
“The Marisol Specific Plan would greatly increase the amount of physical development and remove the ability to enforce these established protective standards,” stated the JPA’s Agenda from mid-February.
Feingold said that input by local environmental organizations likely helped make the “No on G” campaign successful, as many Del Mar residents are “really conscious about the environment and protecting their quality of life.”
Although the “No on G” campaign had a strong following, many prominent Del Mar residents voiced their support of the project, including former Mayors Terry Sinnott, Al Corti and Lee Haydu. Local business owners also rallied behind the project, including Jim Watkins and Randy Gruber, the owner of Americana and Elixir.
Bruce Bekkar, a longtime Del Mar resident, initially opposed the project before coming on as a sustainability consultant to Marisol in 2019. He said he believes potential alternatives to the project may result in a worse outcome, in terms of environmental impact. He referred to the potential “mega-mansions” that could be built on the site – a term frequently used by the developers to describe their alternative options for the property.
“I think the end result will be the site will be less protected when they build those mansions,” he said.
Brad Termini, CEO of Zephyr, sent The Coast News a statement responding to the outcome of the election:
“We deeply appreciate the support and positive engagement we received from so many Del Mar residents and businesses throughout this process. We’re disappointed that voters didn’t embrace this opportunity to open this incredible bluff-top site to the community and provide a host of community benefits for Del Mar, including fulfilling the city’s affordable housing requirement. While we were unable to overcome the misinformation campaign lodged by a small group of very vocal opponents. we accept the results and are assessing all of the options to move forward.”