Sam Borgese | 10th Street
Here are some steps to begin to bring Del Mar Village revitalization from vision to reality:
Step One: Enforce What Exists
The journey to an enriched Del Mar Village commercial area that: offers residents and visitors memorable experiences; retail shops that provide its owners a reasonable living; provides residents and visitors a safe, enjoyable walking environment; and, the City predictable and long term certainly of income; begins with what exists. If we cannot be strong custodians of what we have already built how can we promote adding more specific planned development.
An example is the Del Mar Plaza. The Plaza now sits 40% empty and without the mandated community oriented services that existed in the center it replaced. Concessions and compromise of the Del Mar Plaza Specific Plan over time has reduced the Plaza to another failed retail project. What was once an award winning unique retail experience has now become a ghostly experience.
The retail world is filled with experts who claim to know how to create successful retail environments. Adding more retail space does not guarantee a successful retail environment. The reality: Retail works when the consumer’s interest and needs are stimulated by an intriguing physical experience and innovative offerings of fresh ideas born from the authenticity in a merchant’s goods and services.
Step Two: What is Del Mar?
If the community cannot stand behind a single openly publicized reason to exist – what ever that reason may be – then it will gradually deteriorate. Adherence to the community plan may be too broad a guideline for the development of the commercial component of the community.
Are we a residential community with only real estate offices? A mediocre mini shopping center replicated like the hundreds of other centers that surround us? A beach bar and grill community of seasonal revelers? Or are we a community that provides thoughtful experiences, appropriately designed and attractive venues of collaboration and the authentic goods and services within those venues to support these activities.
Step Three: Community Solidarity
Whatever the reason to exist the community should, in a large majority, promote this reason inside and outside the community with solidarity. The color palette or certain design elements may not be detailed enough for everyone in the beginning however community solidarity will remove much of the conflicted discourse that has prohibited progress of village revitalization over the past 20 or more years.
Step Four: Take Action
Even without steps Two and Three the City can take action on a number of long and short-term projects that would be improvements to some nagging issues surrounding the village revitalization conversation.
Traffic: Start at the major ingress and egress portals of the City. Remove the acceleration lane at Camino Del Mar and Carmel Valley Road. Narrow this road to two lanes. Send a physical and psychological message: You are entering a village not a freeway by-pass. The City is making some wise choices in the north portal at Via De la Valle. Carry that thinking to every major entry to and exit from Del Mar.
No right or left turns onto residential streets during peak by-pass traffic times of daily and seasonal commuters is another immediate action that would force this traffic to seek alternate routes - around Del Mar.
Parking: This is certainly the classic chicken and egg puzzle. Federal Realty a leading national retail developer discovered long ago the increased value of building “streetscape” retail and hiding any required parking behind this front thereby creating a “row” of pedestrian friendly commercial activity.
Del Mar has the opportunity to create this “row” by building these hidden wells of parking. One draft of the Del Mar Plaza Specific Plan had parking located under the empty lot of St Peter’s Church – still a viable option and one that fits the natural topography of the community. Redevelopment of the current City Hall property offers the same opportunity
Affordable Housing/Views & Height: There is an “alley” that exists from 9th Street to Stratford Square on the west side of Camino Del Mar. Current commercial landowners can add residential units along and facing this alley and the city can convert the alley to a landscaped pedestrian only walk way. Café Secret’s bed & breakfast component is the best example of the real application of this solution.
Facilitate Development Ideas: To kick-start development of existing space the City should create, with the community, a fast track project feasibility process that limits expensive upfront engineering and architectural fees. Let’s take the fear of rejection and a prolonged approval process out of the development equation. Landlords and developers do not require financial incentives in a community where land is already priced at a premium over their cost basis. They require an amount of leasable square feet to obtain a solid financial return and the certainty of development approval without a large upfront investment.
The real value of Proposition J was admission that it was time to take action on revitalizing the village commercial core. The process and elements Prop J offered were rejected. The admission that it was time to take action remains.
Let’s decide what we want to be and begin to take the steps necessary to create that reality.