DEL MAR — Asked by City Council to weigh in on Watermark Del Mar, the Planning Commission recommended moving forward with a scaled-down version of the multifamily complex proposed for the southeast comer of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.
Like most project opponents, some members had concerns about traffic but said they were confident engineers would analyze the effects in the draft environmental impact report, which is available on the city’s website for public comment through Nov. 13.
“If they say the traffic is less with this residential use than a commercial use, I have no reason to not believe them,” Nate McCay said. “There’s lots of worry about increased traffic but that argument goes like this: There’s going to be more traffic, therefore the project should not be approved. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Preliminary plans for Watermark revealed in 2013 featured 57 apartments and townhomes on the approximately 2.3-acre lot. The following year City Council approved a specific plan for the proposed development, which eventually was downsized to 48 units in one- and two-story buildings.
It included seven affordable units identified in the city’s state-approved housing element. Four would be deeded at no cost to a nonprofit benefit corporation in perpetuity.
In response to community input, the developers revealed a 38-unit version about a year ago. In addition to adding more trees, changing the building styles, creating more open space and increasing setbacks, the reduced version has a new affordable component.
There will be six units, with three gifted. Unlike the larger proposal, which meets the housing element goal of 20 to 25 units per acre with 20.24 units, the smaller project provides “substantial compliance to the goal” with 16.1 units per acre.
Both options include studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom townhomes and flats and will feature amenities such as a pool, a spa, a recreation area, access from San Dieguito into a parking garage and power line undergrounding.
Additionally, five of 13 Torrey pine trees will be relocated onsite and two will be replaced.
The 48-unit plan has 96 parking stalls for residents and 12 for guests. The smaller iteration has 81 resident spaces and 19 guest stalls, which exceeds the city requirement.
Only two of 10 speakers at the Planning Commission meeting said they support the project, including former Councilman Al Corti, who recently built and moved into a home on Heather Lane just above the development.
He said he preferred to see the Watermark project rather than Riverview, a commercial office complex approved for the site in 2008 that was never built.
Bud Emerson said the project could meet the needs of aging Del Mar residents.
“We have a lot of single seniors in big houses in town and the step that they make from that big house is often to an institution of some kind, no matter what Happy Acres title you give it,” he said. “For some of those folks this would be a nice transition step to stay in Del Mar.”
Emerson suggested converting some of the two bedrooms to one bedrooms or studios to help the city meet its overall affordable housing goal of 22 units.
The other speakers, mostly residents of Heather Lane and neighborhoods off San Dieguito Drive, said the scaled-down version is still too big and will increase traffic and decrease safety at the already impacted and dangerous intersection with the newly installed roundabout.
Wade Walker said his neighbors aren’t opposed to the project. “They are against the size of it,” he added.
“In my opinion the specific plan is not beneficial to the community other than affordable housing, which I think all of us feel passionate about,” Tracy Martinez said. “But I do think there are other ways to think outside the box for affordable housing than this massive development that impacts the community greatly.”
Commissioner Philip Posner said affordable housing shouldn’t be “the tail wagging the dog.”
“I don’t feel that should be the driving factor about it,” he said, adding that he also has concerns about the roundabout, which he drives through daily, and emergency vehicles getting in and out when traffic backs up.
But overall, he said, he supports the project.
“I think the design is very nice,” he said. “I do think it has a lot of great qualities to it. I’m just unsure about size in this area there.” But he added that he doesn’t think it will “stick out like a sore thumb.”
Chairman Ted Bakker said the specific plan process is the better option for changing the land-use designation from commercial to residential.
“If the city rezones it the community will have way less control over what goes there,” he said. “The state will mandate it.”
Martinez also criticized the developers for showing renderings of how Watermark will look from nearly every viewpoint except above the project on Heather Lane.
Posner again agreed, saying drawings should show what residents see, not “what the fish are looking at.”
McCay said nearby residents needed to be more specific in their opposition to the project.
“It seems like there’s a lot of objection that’s not focused on anything other than, ‘We don’t want this in our neighborhood because it’s going to allow too many people to live here,’” he said. “That doesn’t seem right to me.
“I wish the people that are concerned about impacts would come and be specific about the particular impacts that they’re concerned about,” McCay added. “When you live next to a vacant lot your view’s always great. But you can’t expect the lot to be vacant. Vacant lots are there for construction. … These are all borrowed views.”
“Something’s going to be developed,” he said. “That lot isn’t going to sit vacant forever.”
Julie Korsmeyer said she is not naïve enough to think the lot will remain vacant but “this is too dense.”
Because resident Arnold Wiesel said residents were not given enough time to “sift through” all the information in the draft EIR before submitting written comments and providing input to the Planning Commission, the project will be revisited at the Nov. 7 meeting.