Ann Gardner | Via Latina
What do Del Mar residents think about revitalization of downtown? In March the Sandpiper opened an online survey to find out. A summary of your responses, 155 with almost 700 detailed ideas and reactions to our fifteen questions, is presented in this issue. We hope those of you who shared your views by the May 5 deadline will continue to be involved and that even more readers will offer their input through Letters to the Editor as we continue to promote public discussion and thinking about this important issue. We also want to clarify that the survey is informal, designed to gather general perceptions and a range of individual comments. Because you volunteered your opinions, rather than being randomly selected, the survey cannot be considered “scientific.” We thank the Del Mar Village Association for promoting the survey; about 25 business owners took the time to respond.
The Survey data presents a clear picture of residents who love the ambience of our seaside community and enjoy the options for walking, jogging and bicycling; socializing at local restaurants, going to the Library, meeting friends at Powerhouse Park and conducting business at the Post Office or bank. But very few agree that downtown is “fine just as it is” and even though almost 20% said they shopped regularly in Del Mar the follow up comments tell a different story:
- “There’s not much to shop for in Del Mar.”
- “The stores available to us downtown do not meet a residents needs; definitely more for visitors.”
- “It’s the usual problem; no place to park so I do all my shopping elsewhere.”
- “I don’t shop in Del Mar because there is not anything there I want to buy.”
- “Other places are more affordable.”
Does that mean residents would support zoning changes to facilitate expansion of our downtown area? The data presents a mixed reaction, with support for expansion hedged by a concern about “significantly increasing the bulk of the commercial area…at the cost of impairing views and losing the distinctiveness that Del Mar has to offer.” The lack of parking, along with parallel parking and the 90-minute parking limit, was probably the hottest registered complaint about downtown Del Mar. Almost 70% of the respondents agreed that downtown should have better parking (with many blistering comments), but that percentage dropped to less than 50% when asked if parking structures should be added, and then only if the structures were underground or “otherwise invisible.”
Some would settle for no changes: “I’ve become so accustomed to Del Mar as it is that I can’t even imagine a store that I would patronize if it were here.”
But over 70% agreed that downtown needed more resident-serving businesses, and supplied pages of ideas for stores they would support, from the most frequently mentioned, a “really good” book store (Esmeralda Bookstore with its coffee bar and author talks in the back Plaza patio is still missed by many), to a gourmet cheese shop, a practical gift shop (the former Ocean Song with its musical events is remembered), a bike shop, garden supplies, a bakery…everyday products provided by small community-oriented shops that visitors might also frequent. Then the question becomes: Do we need bigger buildings downtown to attract these kinds of stores? As one respondent said, why not “just fill” empty retail space with more resident serving businesses? Or, asked another respondent, would the possible increase in commercial activity cover the costs associated with revitalizing, for instance, public parking, traffic and pedestrian improvements and other measures involving public expenditures? Some suggested that the Fairgrounds contribute more of their fair share, that we create more ways for beach-only visitors to spend money in Del Mar and that we implement a real estate transfer tax to help balance the equation.
Regardless, more respondents were interested in downtown revitalization than not. And a close reading of the individual comments suggests that the Community wants the city to do something to improve the downtown area without breaking the budget.
- “As a local business owner I would be thrilled to see a revitalization to this wonderful town.”
- “Del Mar is a naturally beautiful place. It needs more critical mass to become a real place.”
- “Without a vigorous and improved downtown, Del Mar’s economic future will be compromised.”
- “It has been …a top priority for 30 years. I think it is about time we bring it to the top of our list.”
- “Use the efforts to establish strong reasons for people to visit and shop here.”
- “I want an attractive and vital downtown.”
The Survey asked some questions that gave respondents a chance to voice their opinion on zoning changes that have been suggested. Were there any agreements? Yes.
- A clear majority agreed that zoning should allow more mixed uses.
- A majority feels Camino Del Mar should not be narrowed.
- A slight majority, (55%) would favor increasing the allowable height of buildings along the west side of Camino Del Mar as long as ocean views were preserved.
- About half felt more effective traffic and pedestrian solutions should be instituted at 15th Street, favoring an all directions pedestrian cycle or a diagonal pedestrian crossing over traffic circles.
- About half would favor some increases in the floor area ratio allowed downtown, but a whopping 25% said they needed more information.
- More respondents liked the idea of a theme for downtown than not, and finally
- A plurality of respondents (45%) think downtown development should have the same design and view review as residential properties, with almost 25% wanting more information.
Did the open-ended questions such as “What types of stores, products or community activities would you like to see added to downtown?” and choices about a theme for downtown, i.e. an educational theme, a health and sports theme, an artisan theme or no theme, provide any new ideas for us to ponder? Yes, we think so. In fact the most responses were generated by these kinds of questions and are worth separate articles, which we will publish in future issues. The responses reveal a real appreciation for the town’s special ambience and unique resources that residents want to be sure are included in our City’s plans for a revitalized downtown.