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Plans for Del Mar get mixed reaction

DEL MAR — Residents offered mixed opinions about infrastructure improvements for the downtown area when preliminary plans were revealed at a Sept. 29 open house in the City Hall Annex. Because the construction schedule is tight, council members took action on two issues a few days later during the Oct. 5 meeting.
There were requests to widen the sidewalk on the south side of 15th Street and extend the left-turn lane from northbound Camino del Mar onto 15th Street.
Project plans included decreasing the 12-inch gap between the sidewalk and roadway on 15th Street. Since the project is currently over budget and council members had been discussing options for possible future widening of that sidewalk, 15th Street improvements were taken out of the current project plans. Council members will address improvements in that area later and likely include them for funding during the next fiscal year.
Council also opted not to extend the turn lane since that would essentially add a lane to Camino del Mar and the goal of the community plan is to reduce the number of lanes.
Those decisions should come as welcome news to resident Bill Michalsky, who said at the open house he had “lukewarm” feelings about the project plans. “I’m not too excited,” he said. “I think they should make it like a promenade as much as possible. I think the sidewalks should be wider to create a more pedestrian-friendly area — make it comfortable for visitors and residents, not commuters.”
Also at the open house, Dennis Sharp, who uses a wheelchair, took issue with the improvement plans, saying they did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone with physical or mental disabilities.
“That (noncompliance) tells people with disabilities they are not welcome in that town,” he said. “It’s called discrimination.”
“In general, the project is nonaccessible,” Sharp said, adding that the improvements are detrimental for the hearing impaired as well.
Specifically, Sharp said many of the sidewalk improvements did not include curb cuts on both sides at an intersection. Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum, stressing that the plans were only preliminary, said the existing curbs are improperly constructed to accommodate the disabled. But in some cases, changes weren’t made because the areas are considered unsafe to cross.
Sharp said people will cross regardless of safety, so curb cuts should be added at all intersections.
Some residents were a bit more optimistic. “I think it’s good to have dialogue,” Carol Kerridge said. “I’d like to compare this with the streetscape plans we decided on several years ago. It was a very elaborate process to make the downtown more pedestrian-friendly.”
“I think it’s good to do these upgrades,” Ann Dempsey said. “It’d be nice if it encouraged the military in the hospital to come and visit the town.”
The $500,000 project is being funded with state and federal money, community development block grants and fees from sidewalk cafes. Improvements include new sidewalks, tree grates, curbs and gutters along both sides of Camino del Mar between 12th and 15th streets.
Inconsistent, spotty areas such as the brickwork and shrubbery near the library will be redone, and the center divider between 14th and 15th streets will be relandscaped. The pavement on Camino del Mar will be completely repaired, slurry sealed and restriped.
Public Works Director David Scherer said the project does not require Design Review Board approval since nothing new is being built. “We’re only replacing what’s there,” he said.
More detailed project plans will be presented during another open house set for Oct. 22. Scherer said the public will also have a chance to weigh in during the Oct. 26 City Council meeting, when plans will be presented to council members for bid authorization.
Construction is expected to take place from January through February 2010.