Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue
Note: This is the full version of the text which appeared in the print issue.
THE FAIRBOARD DROPS THE PROPOSED CONDO-HOTEL AND
ADOPTS A MASTER PLAN
On Monday, April 18, 2011, the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors adopted a controversial Master Plan for development of the fairgrounds. Sandpiper readers will know that the proposed 2008 Master Plan called for about one million square feet of development, about half of which was proposed to be new development and about half redevelopment. The proposed new development included a 330 unit multi-story condominium hotel and convention center, a multistory health/sports facility, a parking structure in the east parking lot, and relocation of the Del Mar fire station. Among the projects proposed for rebuilding were the exhibit halls, with the addition of lighted sports fields on the roof, and paving of the east parking lot.
The fair board released the proposed final environmental impact report on this massive project a short five business days before their proposed adoption of the Master Plan, and, the board released hundreds of pages of proposed findings, a statement of overriding considerations, a staff report, and proposed final mitigation monitoring and reporting program the Friday before the scheduled Monday vote. Not surprisingly, virtually everyone objected to the release of these thousands of pages of important documents without time for them to be reviewed and commented upon.
Those requesting that an additional 20 to 30 days be allowed for review and comment on this blizzard of new information included: the state department of General Services, state Senator Christine Kehoe, the City of Del Mar, the City of Solana beach, councilwoman Sherry Lightner of the City of San Diego, the Torrey Pines Community Planning Board, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, the Sierra Club, the San Dieguito River Park JPA, the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, The Friends of the San Dieguito River, and others. Demonstrating just how unresponsive the fair board can be to community concerns, the fair board unanimously rejected these requests for time to participate and, instead, insisted on voting on the Master Plan.
The City of Del Mar, primarily through the hard work of principal planner Adam Birnbaum and with assistance from volunteer members of the city's fairgrounds advisory committee, was able to prepare impressive comments on the blizzard of new documents in spite of the short time and to have those submitted for the record. Planning director Kathleen Garcia, Councilmember Carl Hilliard, and a number of Del Mar residents testified at the hearing and did an excellent job.
Here is an outline of some of the key actions taken by the fair board:
- Certified the FEIR;
- Approved the 2008 Master Plan, (Alternate 3, without the condo- hotel);
- Committed to a minimum 100 foot buffer along the river from Jimmy Durante Boulevard to the western edge of the project on the north side of the river;
- Directed staff to report back within 12 months on how the restoration of the south parking lot to wetlands might be accelerated;
- Adopted CEQA findings (which staff will modify to reflect the changes in the project directed by the board);
- Adopted the statement of overriding considerations;
- Adopted the mitigation monitoring and reporting program with the changes directed by the Board.
In addition to the above actions the board discussed the following topics at some length and gave direction:
DISCUSSION AND DIRECTION
- The proposed 92 square foot electronic reader board sign at the freeway. Two board members (Fletcher and Barralles) opposed the sign outright. Other board members expressed interest in reducing the size of the sign, controlling the times when it would be lit, or otherwise making the sign more compatible with the area and with the community. After much discussion the board affirmed a mitigation measure calling for consultation with the cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach, San Diego, and with the River Park JPA, the holding of a workshop with these parties to discuss the size, location, and other design aspects of a sign along the freeway, with a final decision to be made thereafter by the Ag. Board at a noticed Ag. Board meeting.
- Sports fields on the roof. After much discussion about whether or not sports fields were appropriate on the roof of exhibit halls, the board affirmed a similar mitigation measure as a prerequisite to implementation of sports fields on the roofs: consultation with the neighboring cities and the JPA, holding a workshop, and final decision by the board.
- Lighting on the roofs. Also after much discussion, the board voted to add a new item to mitigation measure 4.5.1 regarding lighting so that the mitigation measure now calls for consultation with the neighboring cities and JPA, workshops, all lighting to be fully shielded, and for all lighting to be extinguished at 10:00 PM except during the fair when the lights would go off at the end of the fair.
- Sports and Health building. The board imposed the same mitigation measure on the sports and health building proposed for the east parking lot, i.e., consultation with the surrounding cities and JPA, holding as workshop, and final board decision on design, lighting, etc.
As of this writing, the actions of the fair board are being digested and evaluated to determine exactly where things stand. Here are some preliminary thoughts:
The good. It is fair to state that some definite improvements were made, including removal of the condo hotel (but it is still in the FEIR), the commitment to a 100 foot buffer along the river, and mitigation measures calling for consultation with surrounding jurisdictions on lighting, sports fields, design elements of the exhibit halls, the freeway sign, and the sports and health building. These mitigation measures could result in further important changes and improvements to the project if there is actual, meaningful, dialogue with the community on these matters with changes being made as appropriate. Likewise, if there is follow up to accelerate the restoration of the south lot to functioning wetlands, that would be a significant improvement.
The not so good. On the other hand, the board ignored all the requests for more time for review and refused to budge on the process. And, as approved, the Master Plan still calls for paving the east parking lot, construction of a parking structure on the east lot, construction of the sports/health building on the east lot, and the FEIR still identifies significant adverse impacts that will not be fully mitigated, although fewer adverse impacts remain after the changes made.
Many of the interested parties who have expressed concerns about the fairgrounds Master Plan attended a meeting on April 12th at the Del Mar library community room sponsored by Dwight Worden. The first half of the meeting was used to update those interested on the status of the Master Plan, to answer questions, and to facilitate preparation of comments and testimony at the coming fair board meeting on April 18. The second half of the meeting was used to discuss options should the fair board approve the Master Plan as proposed. This coalition of interested parties proposes to remain in contact and to evaluate the significance of the changes made to the Master Plan by the fair board as outlined above, and to evaluate all available options.
So, stay tuned! As they say, this story is far from over.