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July/August 2009 home page

Cafe Walls Divide Community 
Mark Whitehead, Santa Fe

The City Council was rebuked by some residents and praised by others in two successive city council meetings, June 8 and 15, now that walled-in patios have been built covering much of the 15th street sidewalk. Explaining that the Council’s objective was to streamline the approval process, Mayor Crawford admitted that the council’s new ordinance needed “tweaking.” The public, though sharply divided in its opinion of the cafés as built, unanimously supported the value of alfresco dining as enhancing the village experience. The controversy concerned the approval process and the design of the cafés.

Active Citizen Involvement.  Photo Art Olson

New walls and a patio fronting Del Mar Pizza provoked the most objections. The bulk and height of the wall, described by two speakers as a “fortress,” and a marked narrowing of the adjacent sidewalk, caused some council members to express concern about the limited path of travel that was an unexpected result of their approval. Councilmember Mosier supported the Council’s new procedure for streamlined approval of sidewalk cafés but, in agreement with Mayor Crawford, conceded the desirability of “more design review” of “concrete and block walls” while allowing for less stringent review of removable planters and railings.

15th Street 2009.  Photo Art Olson

Many speakers at the June 8 meeting expressed dismay that the new approval process eliminated review by the Design Review Board. As Janice Batter, a resident and Del Mar developer-architect put it, “we have stringent design review for everything in Del Mar. Why was this not done for these projects on public space?”
Council member Hilliard, at the June 15 meeting packed to over-flowing with business and commercial property owners and citizen supporters of the cafés, concluded that “the process” as implemented “was good” as is. Councilmember Filanc, described the cafés and costly sidewalk improvements as a benefit to the community, and the café walls and appointments as “treasures as built.”

Similarly, supporters of the café approval process and the new construction thanked the business owners for funding the projects. They praised interim planning director, Mooney, and the council for “bold leadership,” urged them not to retrench on the new permitting ordinance, and derided opponents “as the same small group of nay-sayers” who, they claimed, have “always blocked progress in Del Mar,” and who “had their chance to speak up during the council’s many meetings on the cafés.” Rick Ehrenfeld countered that he did complain as the new process unfolded, but that the plans required by the council and available to the public were too minimal to allow for informed input. For example, the heating structures, described by some as visual blight, was a design detail not considered that would have been evaluated by the Design Review Board (DRB).

15th Street 1960
Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society
15th Street 2009
Photo Ann Gardner

Other speakers, arguing for requiring full DRB review of the cafés explained, “community expectations have always focused on the DRB for vetting of construction projects and hearing from the community.” But supporters of the new café process decried DRB review as too costly and dilatory. Linda Rock, a supporter of the construction, summarized the sentiment of many at the June 15 meeting, “streamlining made this happen.” “Even with streamlining,” Mr. Fleet, the owner of Del Mar Pizza stated, “I spent $95,000 on this project” adding, “I will have to sell a lot of pizzas.” The pizza patio provides 240 square feet of new dining space for a $480 annual fee to the city.

In September the council will consider modifying the café approval process and discuss how the cafés and sidewalks functioned during summer usage. A detailed letter of suggested improvements to the ordinance, submitted by Dwight Worden, was specifically mentioned by the Council as meriting their attention. (To read Worden’s comments see full text on the website www.delmarsandpiper.org). Two additional café projects have been approved and are pending construction along Camino Del Mar fronting En Fuego and Corks and Crepes.


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