June 2012 home page

Village Specific Plan 
A 4-Part Spread

Citizens Speak | Merchants Mind  | Del Mar-only Ballot
Butcher, Baker, and Starbucks


Butcher, Baker, and Starbucks
Ann Gardner | Via Latina


Can retail stores make it in Del Mar? City Council’s recent 3-2 vote exempting one more space from our retail-only-on-the-first-floor requirement begs the question. The retail cop-out scenario probably began in 2007-8 when the City Council allowed an adjustment to the L’Auberge Hotel Specific Plan in order to replace a retail bakery and part of a retail dress shop with a Spa facility for hotel guests.

Still, in 2009 the City Council approved Horizontal Zoning requirements to prevent further proliferation of offices, especially real estate, from dominating our downtown streetscape. But in 2010 they approved an exemption for Ranch and Coast Plastic Surgery office near the corner of 15th and Camino del Mar because the clothing store was failing, and with the condition a public seating area be established outside. Last month they approved another exemption that will allow a real estate office to occupy a long-vacant street front space near the corner of 12th and Camino del Mar.

Fortunately there are successful shops that inspire hope for retail in Del Mar, and in 2007 the Del Mar Village Association hired the Community Land Use and Economics Group (CLUE) of Virginia to assess the district’s retail opportunities. They determined that yes; there was market demand for both additional community serving and “destination products.” We just needed the right mix of, among several factors, skilled business operators, district marketing programs and economic conditions.

CLUE recommends developing retail primarily for community and “nearby community” residents, and specifically in four categories: groceries, dining out, hardware, and reading materials that they term “convenience-oriented retail.” Product lines might be specialty and gourmet grocery items, ethnic restaurants, mid-and upscale take-away food, topic-focused books and magazines and even “a Do-it-yourself dog wash.” They clarify that gourmet carryout dinners would attract residents and commuters and carryout lunches, beach visitors.

CLUE also suggests retail stores add secondary products to “relieve financial pressure from the main product line,” for instance books and magazines as part of a small restaurant or combining compatible retail such as hardware with home design. Del Mar’s Folio Design might add upscale hardware items; Prep Kitchen a line of cookware and utensils, or taking a cue from CLUE, Dexter’s Deli a dog wash.

Unfortunately the Report also claims, “preserving the view sheds…limits the district’s (retail) density and…its ability to generate enough municipal revenue to cover the costs of services and public improvements. Short fixes, such as “encouraging non-retail businesses to enliven their storefront windows…installing banners on retail business (to draw) shoppers from one retail store to the next” according to the Report won’t work in the long run.

We could point to successes under our current zoning and hope for new, savvy entrepreneurs like Dexter’s Deli, The Bustle, Rusty’s, Folio Design and Durante’s Menswear; the latter has been happy here for almost 30 years. Or we could increase the density allowed, aiming for a better ‘critical mass.’ We are, in fact, losing community-serving retail. The decision is ours. In the meantime let’s hope the City will stay the course and find ways to promote, not exempt, retail space downtown.

Editors note: See related Sandpiper articles: Daunting Obstacle Course (May 2010), Your Opinions Counted (June 2010) and Locals Know Views (July 2010) at sandpiper.org.


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