DEL MAR — Developers of a proposed 259-unit housing project on Del Mar’s north bluff continue to be at odds with city leaders and residents as they surge ahead with plans for the controversial development.
The Seaside Ridge project, first proposed to the city in October, proposes a nine-building development on a 7-acre property owned by San Diego philanthropist Carol Lazier just north of Del Mar Dog Beach. The development would offer units for a mix of income levels, including 42 units for low- to extremely low-income households.
Developers submitted an updated application on March 30, which Del Mar leaders have deemed to be incomplete. In an April 28 letter, the city cited various missing materials, including rezoning, Local Coastal Program Amendment, coastal development permit, and conditional use permit applications that need to be submitted for the project to move forward.
Project representative Darren Pudgil said they plan to resubmit an application addressing the identified issues.
“We will continue to work with the City to advance this worthy project, which will not only significantly help the City meet their housing requirements but also provide the public with an oceanfront park and trail, as well as new public parking,” Pudgil said. “Our hope is that the City does its part to comply with the laws that allow much-needed affordable housing projects like Seaside Ridge to move forward.”
The site at 929 Border Ave is identified in the city’s 6th Cycle Housing Element as a backup site to develop housing if the city is unable to reach a binding agreement with the Del Mar Fairgrounds to construct units on their land by next year.
Del Mar leaders submitted the city’s revised 6th cycle housing element — a state-mandated housing plan — in early April, with fingers crossed that the document will finally receive long-awaited certification from the state.
However, legal firm Sheppard Mullin, representing the Seaside Ridge project, argues that Del Mar’s housing element is out of compliance, requiring the city to rezone the property now and approve the project.
Lawyers also assert the project’s proposed affordable units would earn a density bonus exempting it from various local development standards.
City leaders have continually pushed back against this legal interpretation.
“The City’s adopted Housing Element identifies a sufficient inventory of sites with correct zoning and capacity to meet the City’s [Regional Housing Needs Allocation] without the need to rezone properties,” said Principal Planner Matt Bator.
City leaders are relying on the Fairgrounds to enter into a binding agreement to develop at least 61 lower-income units on their land, with less than a year until the agreement needs to be submitted to the state in April 2024.
An ad hoc committee of Fairgrounds and city officials have been meeting at least once a month to hammer out the details in hopes of having something more concrete later this year. One site being considered is a 10-acre piece of land used primarily for parking on the corner of Via de la Valle and Jimmy Durante Boulevard.
At a May 9 meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the Fairgrounds’ managing board, officials indicated their receptivity to hosting affordable units onsite. The Fairgrounds’ part in the agreement would simply be to offer the land, while management and associated costs would be footed by the city.
“Like any complex project, it’s not gonna be simple, but it seems ultimately doable with reasonable parties on all sides,” said board president G. Joyce Rowland.
Seaside Ridge developers claim the project can be safely built on the bluff with 33-foot setbacks, accounting for sea level rise in a “conservative, low probability of occurrence scenario.”
However, several residents have expressed concerns about the project’s impact on the fragile north bluff, an area that researchers say has been especially impacted by erosion and contains the added risk of sea caves that burrow as deep as 20 feet into the cliff.
Friends of the Del Mar North Bluff co-founder Carla Echols-Hayes said the group is funding a study of current bluff conditions as well as sea caves in the cliff face, contracting Scripps Institute of Oceanography researcher Adam Young as well as a geotechnical engineer at the cost of $15,000. The group has organized a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost of the report.
This isn’t the first time residents have funded such a report. Back in 2019, when a luxury resort called Marisol was proposed for the same site on the north bluff, a group of residents funded another report by Young that mapped out scenarios of sea level rise and erosion on the bluffs.
“I am very concerned not just about the cliff retreat, but more near-term, that it gets so destabilized, because it’s clearly on the move now, that somebody gets hurt,” Echols-Hayes said. “Whatever the deepest part of the deepest sea cave is, that’s the true toe of the bluff.”
Speaking to the Del Mar City Council on May 15, Young said these caves form around weak spots in the bluff and that they can lead to bluff failure. Young said that as a result of intense winter storms, Del Mar’s bluffs from Powerhouse Park to Torrey Pines (not including the project’s location along the north bluff) saw an average of 20 centimeters of erosion, double what scientists usually see and some areas saw up to one meter.
When asked about retreat along the north bluff specifically, Young told The Coast News they did not have current data for that area.
“We’re continuing to monitor how they might respond. The waves were quite large, so it could take years for some of that sand to come back,” Young said.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Carla Echols-Hayes had personally funded a $15,000 study of current bluff conditions. Echols-Hayes’ group, Friends of the Del Mar North Bluff, is funding the study through an online fundraiser.
CLARIFICATION: This article was updated to clarify where erosion levels were measured along Del Mar’s bluffs. Scripps researcher Adam Young did not have current erosion data for the project’s proposed location along the north bluff.