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Public benefits of revitalization addressed

DEL MAR — City officials continue to address the approximately 70 comments received during the public review period for the draft environmental impact report on the village specific plan. 

At the June 4 meeting, integration of the commercial village with the surrounding residential community and its benefits and impacts were discussed.

“Our community plan states that in the vision the integration of the commercial district with its surrounding residential is a major goal,” Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.

She said comments included concerns that improvements in the specific plan were burdening residents with commercial impacts and disproportionately benefiting businesses rather than residents.

“We feel strongly that this plan leans strongly in favor of the business community over the needs of the residential community and their quality of life,” Sally Middleton wrote.

Garcia also said residents felt there was a lack of clarity in terms of what those benefits are.

“And to be honest, when I went back and read through it I saw that very clearly,” Garcia said. “We did not spend enough time describing what the community benefits were right up front.”

Garcia said the economic benefits include additional sales, and property and hotel guest taxes that will provide “much-needed” revenue for city services.

“We can increase our eligibility for grant funding by putting into practice many of these smart-growth principles,” she said. “Therefore we can leverage additional money so it’s not totally dependent on the city of Del Mar…We’ve watched some of our neighboring cities being able to do this.”

Additionally, she said the plan provides incentives for the affordable housing mandate.

A walkable community could also increase property values by up to $82 per square foot, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute. That equates to about a $164,000 increase in value for a 2,000-square-foot home.

Because buildings must be constructed using standards higher than those currently required, the plan provides environmental benefits as well, Garcia said.

The result will be improved air and water quality and decreased energy use. There will also be a reduction in noise as cars stop and start less frequently on Camino del Mar with the roundabouts.

Garcia said after roundabouts were installed in Bird Rock, La Jolla experienced a 15 percent drop in the decibel level.

Roundabouts will also result in lower exhaust emissions, she said.

As for quality of life, Garcia said more public parking and road capacity will reduce traffic overflow into the neighboring residential areas.

There is also a parking management plan that includes regular monitoring, increased pedestrian safety, continuous sidewalks, more housing choices, a potential for more resident-serving retail such as specialty markets and a public ocean-view corridor that would be wider than what currently exists.

Most of the handful of speakers at the June 4 meeting support the plan.

“We’re behind the curb when you look at other communities,” former Councilman Lou Terrell said. “Solana Beach and Encinitas have moved forward and we’re frozen in time.

“This downtown is dead,” he said. “I think what you may be doing is building some life into the downtown.”

However, Terrell cautioned officials to “make sure that you don’t build a canyon” along Camino del Mar. “But that’s a design issue and I’m sure you guys will be up to that task,” he said.

“There’s nothing really (downtown) that attracts me,” Anthony Corso said. “A few restaurants that I think are great but other than that it’s really boring.”

He encouraged the city to attract creative, imaginative people “who are willing to invest money.”

Al Corti agreed, saying the existing area is “not pedestrian oriented and it’s not all that attractive.”

“I don’t know what other community benefit could be more important than making our main street safer or our sidewalks more pedestrian friendly or our environment healthier,” he said.

Although he supports the revitalization effort, resident Mark Stuckelman asked council to consider a scaled-back plan.

“It sounds like a great thing,” he said. “In fact, there are some significant problems with the plan which I don’t think are being adequately addressed and potentially ignored. The first one is air pollution.

Stuckelman said more people coming and going, getting in and out of cars and talking on sidewalks will “dramatically” increase the noise level.

“The noise has the potential to be, at times, sort of unbearable for … the people living next to downtown,” he said. “That needs to be addressed. It’s a difficult thing to measure but we have a very capable planning staff that I think could figure out a way to do that.

“When you go out into the community there are significant reservations, and without a scaled-back plan there’s a real risk that this does not pass in November,” he said. “I think we need to revitalize. There’s a lot of good things in this plan. I’d be really disappointed if we missed this opportunity to improve Del Mar because we overreached.”

The specific plan must be approved by voters. Garcia said additional concerns about noise, as well as building heights, bulk and mass will be discussed at the June 18 meeting.

Staff will revise the plan to better outline the public benefits. Council members asked that the changes include a better description of what would happen if the city does nothing.