By Bianca Kaplanek | The Coast News Group
DEL MAR — Conceptual plans for a proposed bluff-top resort above North Beach, unveiled at an Aug. 30 workshop at Powerhouse Community Center, garnered mostly positive comments from the approximately 100 attendees.
But Solana Beach residents, who could be more impacted than their Del Mar neighbors, were slightly less enthusiastic and are viewing the project with cautious optimism.
The fact that they have few, if any, legal rights to challenge the project, especially when it comes to view impacts, isn’t lost on Del Mar Councilman Dwight Worden.
“There is more of a view issue for Solana Beach, which has a view (assessment process),” he said. “But it doesn’t apply to development in Del Mar.
“There aren’t really any Del Mar residents who will look over and across it, so you have the ironic circumstance that it may not be reviewed (for view impacts) by either city,” Worden added.
That’s not to say the Encinitas-based developers — Zephyr Partners and Robert Green Company — haven’t been sensitive to the situation.
“We live closer than most Del Mar residents,” said Denise Rahmani, a member of Solana Beach’s Condominium Organization of South Sierra Avenue, which represents about 900 bluff-top units. “It’s in our backyard. But (the developers) have been good, reaching out to the stakeholder groups.”
She said the biggest concern is the potential traffic and parking along South Sierra.
“They have addressed it and it sounds like their plan to meet the requirements will meet some of our concerns,” Rahmani said. “But we’re cautiously optimistic. It will be great for Del Mar and Solana Beach. … I think it will be beautiful and it stands to increase our property values.”
The 16-acre lot on the southwest corner of the Via de la Valle/Camino del Mar intersection is made up of three parcels.
The owner of one planned to subdivide its 6.2 acres into five single-family residential lots.
When Zephyr cofounder Brad Termini was asked by a broker to buy and develop that parcel he said it would be a shame to build houses and keep the oceanfront land closed to the public, as it has been for nearly a century.
He teamed up with Green, a luxury hotel developer, and the two are in a long-term agreement to buy all three lots, which are currently zoned residential.
They plan to redevelop the site into a resort with 251 rooms, 86 branded villas, restaurants, meeting space, a public access park and walking trails. Also proposed are 11 affordable for-rent units.
To help meet a California Coastal Commission goal to provide low-cost access to beaches, a visitors’ lodge will feature 46 rooms with reduced rates regulated by the state agency.
The workshop was the third public meeting hosted by the developers to gather public input to help shape the project. The first two were held on consecutive Saturdays in May.
Notices to all were sent to as many people as possible, the developers said, including nearby residents and anyone who signed up to receive emails.
Tom and Jan Moore, who live east of the site near Solana Circle, said the recent workshop was the first one they heard about. From their home they look west across an onsite vacant lot and can see the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s going to change our view,” Tom Moore said. “It’s hard to tell exactly how right now. We may not see the ocean.”
His wife said she is also worried about traffic impacts, especially at the Via de la Valle intersection, which she described as a nightmare with frequent accidents already.
Despite their concerns, the Moores said development was inevitable.
“The land has been sitting there for so long,” Tom Moore said. “Something had to happen. It’s too nice not to be developed.”
Because the parcels have to be rezoned, several legislative changes and discretionary permits must be approved.
Zoning changes can be made using one of two methods. A sequential process would initially create a new zoning chapter that could not contain any deviations or assess public benefits.
A specific plan, which creates a special set of development standards for a particular area, allows the public benefit of the project to be addressed.
Del Mar City Council members approved the latter 4-1 in June. Dave Druker disagreed, saying it should be decided by public vote.
Adam Birnbaum. Del Mar’s former planning director, was hired as a consultant to “help navigate the process and learn the Del Mar way,” he said.
His experience with the city seems to be helping.
“This development is ideal,” said longtime resident Jim Watkins, who developed L’Auberge Del Mar. “It protects the bluffs and opens the property up to the public.
It’s providing amenities and revenue.
“The developers have been very sensitive in their considerations of views, traffic and all the things people are typically concerned about,” he added. “They’re addressing the issues in a very classy way.”
“It’s potentially a very good use of space,” Glenn Karp said. “If it’s going to open up the property to the public and provide tax revenue for the city, it’s a win-win.”
“They seem to have genuinely responded to the legitimate concerns of Del Mar,” Worden said. “I hope they are able to walk the talk.”