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Environmentally Fair?
April 2009 | Mark Whitehead, Santa Fe


Covered Arena at the Fairgrounds.  Photo: Art Olson

The 22nd District Agricultural Association (Fairboard) has big plans. New projects for which approval is being sought include adding a 200,000 square foot exhibit hall, a 330 room condominium hotel, a 58,000 square foot three-story office structure, a new electronic sign board along I-5, and paving the land east of Jimmy Durante Boulevard for “improved” parking. All this, of course, in a lagoon floodplain environment already compromised by the historic siting of the Fairgrounds years ago (not to mention recent developments--see photo).

While the City of Del Mar has authority to ensure that buildings and other developments are compatible with community and environmental values, the Fairgrounds are exempt from such direct control owing to their state ownership. State trumps city. But the city does weigh in by commenting to agencies whose approval is needed for developments at the Fairgrounds, e.g.., the Coastal Commission. Regarding the Ag District’s current plans, the city has submitted concerns for inclusion in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), an important document due for public comment when released later this year.

City concerns and recommendations are many. Paving the East lot, including its identified wetlands, should be prohibited; additional parking could be accommodated with a multilevel lot on the currently paved west lot. The proposed conference center/hotel is likely inconsistent with public trust restrictions and a threat to the floodplain, floodway and viewshed of the river. Various environmental concerns were raised consistent with the city’s position that limitations should be placed on the footprints of structures, and that encroachments on sensitive lands should be removed, not expanded. The city emphasized that since the Fairgrounds are owned by the public, they should benefit the public, not be redeveloped in competition with privately owned properties within the city. The EIR is expected to address these and other issues from the Ag District’s perspective. The public can respond as well. Stay tuned.




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