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Developers of the potential Marisol retreat gathered enough signatures to bring the project’s specific plan to the ballot. Residents will be able to find project specifics and a scale model at the project’s visitor center downtown, which will open in early October. Photo by Lexy Brodt.
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‘Marisol’ project gathers enough signatures to go to vote

DEL MAR — Developers and supporters of the “Marisol” resort project in Del Mar have gathered enough signatures to bring the project’s specific plan to a vote.

The project would bring 65 hotel rooms, 31 villas, a spa, café, restaurant, gardens, and a 1.25-mile walking trail to the 16.5-acre bluff-top lot on the corner of Camino Del Mar and Villa de la Valle.

The initiative required 328 signatures from Del Mar residents to qualify for an election. In about three weeks, the project’s supporters were able to gather 524.

“We’re really encouraged by the pace and the number of signatures we were able to collect from residents who want an opportunity to vote on this,” said Zephyr CEO Brad Termini. Zephyr is the project’s developer, along with the Robert Green Company.

Termini anticipates Del Mar residents will be able to vote on the project’s specific plan in March 2020. An affirmative vote on the specific plan — a document that imposes a zoning overlay on a site — would pave the way for further discretionary approvals and final approval by the California Coastal Commission.

The “Marisol” retreat has seen its fair share of controversy. When the developers brought forth their initial plan for a resort with 251 hotel rooms and 76 villas, it was met with plenty of commentary and criticism from both Del Mar and the neighboring community of Solana Beach — which directly borders the lot in question. Opponents showed up en masse at community meetings in 2018, with Solana Beach passing a resolution to oppose an increase in the site’s current zoning allowance.

The developers have since scaled down their initial vision, cutting the project’s square footage by 40% and rebranding it as the “Marisol” retreat.

Developers opted to submit the revised project as a citizen’s initiative, meaning the specific plan and amendments to Del Mar’s community plan, local coastal program and zoning map would go to a vote.

Though new designs have been met with a less rancorous response, many residents have remained skeptical about the project’s height, bulk, and impacts to traffic and the fragile sandstone bluffs — to name a few. Some prefer the site to stay as is — zoned for about 18 large homes.

Opponents have also expressed concerns that the citizen’s initiative aims to bypass the rigorous Del Mar review and approval process. Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman with the project, said this was not the developers’ intention.

Laing said the vote was meant to be additive, rather than a replacement of the normal process.

Ultimate approval will require several permits that are not included in the initiative process and will require feedback from the Del Mar City Council, the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board. The California Coastal Commission will give the final stamp of approval, if the project moves forward.

Although the Design Review Board can impose certain conditions on the project, the board’s approval would be based on the city’s design review ordinance and the design guidelines of the project’s specific plan, according to Del Mar’s Principal Planner Kathy Garcia.

A project such as this would typically go in front of the city’s Planning Commission first to consider the rezoning, and then require a 4/5 vote by the City Council.

Some area locals have showed their support for the project, particularly in light of the recent revision. Rancho Santa Fe resident and retired MLB Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, who owns a home in Del Mar, voiced his support for the project in early August. A few residents spoke at the city’s Sept. 9 city council meeting to lend their support.

Bruce Bekkar, a longtime Del Mar resident and now a sustainability consultant for the project, pointed out the developers’ aim for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and its planned efforts to divert rainfall off of the bluffs.

“They’re doing an awful lot of things that I am pleased about,” Bekkar said. “ … we finally have the opportunity to gain access to this 17.5-acre parcel up there and make it something that I think our city can be really proud of and actually use.”

The signatures were submitted days after City Council voted unanimously to request a report on the initiative. As permitted by Election Code Section 9212, staff will take a month to analyze the initiative relative to council’s most pertinent questions. Questions will address topics like fiscal impact and effects on land use, but also bluff stability, traffic, views and the implementation of public benefits.

Matt Bator, a senior planner with the city, said the report will address requested council questions, such as how the initiative will affect the city’s project level review and approval process. Bator said he anticipates the report will be presented to council in early November.

The developer will be opening a visitors’ center in downtown Del Mar in early October, which will include a scale model and other visual components.