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A Vision for Village Revitalization
April 2008 | by Mark Whitehead


A community-serving retail district located south on Camino del Mar near 9th street, more continuity of lively store-fronts, streamlined development processes, and improving “perceptions” about parking were among the recommendations of Ms. Kennedy Smith whose long-awaited revitalization plan for Del Mar's business core was presented to the city council on March 17. The plan was commissioned by the Del Mar Village Association (DMVA) which shared its cost with the city. The plan is “not just another study” according to DMVA president Walt Beerle. Stating the city has lots of completed studies, Beerle explained that the prior studies were used by Ms. Smith together with new survey data to analyze the pros and cons of the business district, and to make suggestions for improvements that would be a good fit.

Desirable features of the village core, according to Ms. Smith, include its unique look, protected views, an engaged citizenry and community affluence. She also praised the marketing efforts of the DMVA in recent years. Negative features include unusually high “regulatory burdens” that discourage development, the City's inability to fund public improvements, and an underperforming retail sector. Ms. Smith explained that the retail businesses in the village core produce about $260,000 in annual sales tax revenues for the City; about half of what could be expected. “In fact”, said Ms. Smith, “city revenue from parking fines is greater than revenue from retail!”

The report analyzed voids in retail businesses that could be successful, given Del Mar's demographics. It recommended more resident-serving shops, including convenience products, and visitor destination shops offering unique gifts. Increased reliance on internet marketing by retailers was also touted.

Ms. Smith recommended reducing regulatory burdens for new development by replacing existing zoning with a “Smart Code”; a form of regulation encouraging multiple goals and objectives, not simply limiting permitted uses. Redevelopment that would significantly increase retail revenue will “require increased density”, a “controversial topic,” she said, but one that merits consideration.

Ms. Smith recommended the City should assume responsibility for implementing the Streetscape Plan and adopt policies, such as the proposed horizontal-zoning ordinance, to encourage a continuous retail-oriented pedestrian zone along Camino del Mar.

Addressing parking adequacy, Ms. Smith concluded the greater problem is poor utilization of existing parking, not shortage of spaces. Tailoring parking regulations for each block, encouraging shared use of parking by day and evening businesses, and new technology to enhance parking meter uses were among her suggestions.

The day after her City Council presentation Ms. Smith met with the DMVA to offer suggestions for the next steps. “We are now studying implementation steps” said Jen Grove, executive director of the DMVA. She added that Streetscape has been identified as an important objective and DMVA is looking at ways to move this forward. “DMVA will also be considering ways to encourage better tenants for our village,” she stated. Recognizing that land-use issues may cause controversy, Grove expressed the hope that residents will remain “open-minded” in considering changes for improving the village core.

Mark Whitehead is a former mayor of Del Mar.



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