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Del Mar digs new Civic Center

By Phil Diehl, February 8, 2017

Del Mar’s new $17.8 million Civic Center is at last rising on the same ocean-view property that held the old City Hall, a converted brick elementary school that had been the city’s headquarters since 1975.The Civic Center project “is probably 30 years in the planning, or more,” said former Councilman Al Corti, a real estate developer who continues to serve as a liaison between the City Council, the contractor, and others involved in the construction.

From the beginning, city officials discussed building more than just a City Hall on the Camino Del Mar property, which is on the west side of the road between 10th and 11th streets. They wanted additional parking for nearby merchants and guests at special events, and they wanted a public plaza to serve as a meeting place and to host outdoor activities such as concerts, weddings and more.

City Council and Del Mar residents, however, balked several times at proposed designs and estimated costs.

“From my view, it took way too long,” said Corti, who pushed the city to pull the trigger on the project when he was on the council from 2012 to 2016. The council approved the plan in November 2015, the old building was demolished last year, and a groundbreaking was held in September.

Del Mar’s new Civic Center will include a 140-space below-ground parking structure, topped by an 8,722-square-foot City Hall with administrative offices and a 150-seat council chamber that can be converted for other uses, a separate 3,172-square-foot Town Hall to seat as many as 250 people for dinners and special events, and a 15,000-square-foot outdoor public plaza.

Also included are three areas for future expansion — possibilities include a restaurant or commercial business that could create income for the city, or a new location for the historic Alvarado house, which was built in 1885 and used as a residence for a century before it was moved to the Del Mar Fairgrounds for storage to make way for new construction.

Still, not everyone is happy what’s coming to the 1.5-acre site. Nearby homeowner Steven Mack filed a lawsuit a year ago claiming the environmental documents for the project failed to adequately address the increase in noise and traffic the project would bring. He asked for greater controls over the types of activities, their time of day, and lighting at the Civic Center. A court hearing is expected this summer.

“It’s never really been about the buildings themselves,” said Mack’s attorney, Everett DeLano, who specializes in land use and environmental law. “My client and other neighbors are really talking about how those facilities are used.”

They want limits on the number of people who can attend events at the center, how late the facilities can stay open, what types of sound equipment can be used, and more. Much of the surrounding area is an older beach neighborhood of single-family homes.

City officials say the Civic Center plan was developed over the years with extensive community input, and that the design is well within the guidelines set by environmental documents.

Further details of a policy to guide activities, time limits, and the noise allowed are being developed and will be presented to the City Council before the facility opens, said Assistant City Manager Kristen Crane, who oversees the construction project.

“We’ve been working hard to minimize the impacts on our neighbors,” she said, and one of the first things built was a sound wall to minimize noise leaving the property.

Construction remains on schedule and within budget despite 13 rain days so far this winter, Crane said.

“The end of the drought has not been our friend,” she said, although the construction schedule had anticipated as many as 18 rain days.

Other difficulties so far have included some spots of “spongy” soil that had to be backfilled with aggregate and concrete, and an unexpected 90-foot-long retaining wall that had to be removed from the embankment below Camino Del Mar, she said.

Last week workers were digging trenches to hold conduit and building the concrete “podium” that will cover the parking structure and support the main buildings. By mid-summer the main buildings will start going up.

“This summer we’ll start seeing the shape of the buildings,” Crane said.

“Dry in,” or the point where the roof is on and work can continue indoors, is expected by September, Crane said. The buildings should be ready to occupy by late spring of 2018.

Until then, City Hall will continue to operate in temporary quarters leased in an office building at 2019 Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

Some of the furniture from the old building was sold at a public auction in June, but most of it has been moved to the temporary location, Crane said.

Del Mar had a population of about 4,300 people in 2014, making it the smallest of San Diego County’s 18 incorporated cities.


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