June 2011 home page

  City Hall: Keep It Simple
Jacqueline Winterer | Ocean View Avenue


City Council is having community conversations about revitalization of the downtown area which is mostly the business district. In that spirit I offer some reflections on development of the City Hall property, zoned Public Facility (PF). My first concern is that City Hall is the seat of government, our civic home, not a business and should not be considered as one.

I have followed City Hall development issues since 1985, sometime as a participant, sometimes on the sidelines. At least six plans have been developed in the past 36 years since we bought the property, all of them abandoned or defeated at the ballot box. I have come to the conclusion that the problem is not about building uses and arrangements on the lot. It is that in Del Mar, the public is often opposed to very big, comprehensive projects. As an example, under-grounding of the telephone lines worked in a small neighborhood and failed in very extensive areas.

So if we are going to talk about City Hall again let’s keep the plan simple. My hope is that the revitalization project not impose unnecessary constraints on a property that is not a business property and has been very hard to deal with. I do believe developing a new administrative building only is actually possible and may meet with the public support. Here is a suggestion:

1. Build a new administrative building on the Southeast quadrant of the property, the present-day asphalt parking lot. By locating the building here City operations would have to move only once, avoiding unnecessary disruptions of services. Based on square footage currently used by the city, the size of the new building could be about 9,000 sq.ft.

2. Build parking below the new City Hall: one level of parking spaces (50 spaces @ 300 sq.ft each) or two levels (100 spaces @ 300 sq.ft each).

3. Keep the TV Studio. Let future Councils decide if better Council Chambers are needed.

4. Leave modular units of the Annex as they are for the time being. Use them as a much-needed Community and Senior Center.

5. Keep the 19 surface parking spaces on the lower lot and keep the Farmer’s Market in this preferred location.

6. Lease the North Building as a source of revenue leaving for the future what to do with it, or consider a public/private partnership lease that would develop the Northeast quadrant of the property.

7. Demolish the South Building (1,900 sq.ft) and replace it with 20 surface parking spaces.

How to finance this plan? I made calculations using numbers provided by a real estate agent for 44 properties presently on the market in our area, west of I-5. It took only four families (presumably 8 bread winners) to buy a total of 9,348 sq.ft. If eight people can service this debt for four homes, why can’t a population of 4,161 handle the debt for a 9,000 sq.ft civic home, plus we already own the land?

Financing the underground parking may be expensive but less so because the lot already slopes enough to accommodate at least one level of parking, and perhaps the revitalization plan could be helpful by giving downtown properties wishing to re-develop an exemption from their parking-space obligation by paying the city the cost of a parking space(s) under City Hall.



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