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Resident sues city over City Hall project.
By Bianca Kaplanek | August 3, 2016

DEL MAR — A homeowner is suing the city over its civic center project, but he isn’t seeking financial gain nor does he want to stop the development.

“It’s not the buildings themselves,” said Everett DeLano, the attorney representing Steven Mack, who lives on 10th Street just south of the project site. “If this were just City Hall and all the traditional uses — none of that he’s opposed to. The Town Hall is the elephant in the room that’s driving his concerns.”

DeLano said he and Mack have met with city officials “since the get-go” to clearly define the potential future uses of that building and an outdoor plaza, which weren’t specified or addressed in the environmental impact report.

“They’ve talked about concerts with no limitation on hours,” DeLano said. “They said they would only be for community groups or nonprofits. I’m active with nonprofits. I know from experience that those kids of events can go late and they can be loud.”

DeLano said adding to the already approved permits specific commitments of potential uses of the town hall area and plaza that would create limits to guarantee the site would be consistent with the neighborhood could make the lawsuit go away.

Those parameters include limiting attendance at any function to no more than 250 people and allowing activities other than the City Council meetings, such as performances, community gatherings and art exhibits, only between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

DeLano said the goal is not to “bash” city officials.

“To their credit, they’ve been more responsive than most cities,” he said. “We sat and discussed our concerns with (city staff) really early on. But we couldn’t come to a resolution.

“The best they could do was agree to a permit process,” he added. “But you can drive a Mack truck through that process.”

Demolition of the existing building, which was built in the 1920s for Del Mar’s first public school, is complete.

It will be replaced with an 8,700-square-foot City Hall, a 3,200-square-foot Town Hall with a 250-person seating capacity, a 950-square-foot breezeway, a 500-square-foot catering kitchen, about 140 parking spaces and a 15,000-square-foot public plaza.

The latter was a high priority for many residents to accommodate the farmers market.

There is an additional 11,000 square feet of open space for future undefined development. City officials said whatever is built there will require separate environmental and design review that includes a public input process.

While Mack has concerns about those areas as well, his current concerns focus on the use of the Town Hall and plaza.

“It’s the vagueness that’s the problem,” DeLano said. “The square footage could accommodate a number of people, and with that comes cars and noise. That’s a lot to be going on in a residential neighborhood.

“This is not a traditional location for a City Hall by any stretch,” he added. “I’ve never seen one in a residential area.”

Council members were briefed on the lawsuit by the city attorney during a closed meeting Aug. 1, but no action was taken. Mayor Sherryl Parks and the city attorney said they could not comment at this time.

A request for construction bids for the $17.8 million project was just released. Council members expect to award the contract next month. Work should begin in October and is estimated to take 18 months.

The city is in the process of demolishing the outdated City Hall at 1050 Camino Del Mar to make way for a new $18 million complex that would include a multipurpose town hall building, an administrative building and a civic plaza.

The lawsuit was filed in February by Steven Mack, who owns a home across the street from City Hall. The suit says the city plans to allow the civic center to be used for public and private functions, but the environmental report did not address how those events would affect nearby residents or how the city would mitigate impacts such as noise and traffic. Environmental reports are required by state law to identify and address any potential problems caused by a development.

City officials were not available for comment Monday and Tuesday, but in court documents they denied the allegations.

Everett DeLano, an attorney representing Mack, said his client doesn’t want to disrupt construction of the new complex, but he wants some checks on how it will operate. For instance, he said, Mack wants events limited to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with no more than 250 attendees. There should also be lighting, traffic and noise control plans.

“The city acknowledged there could be weddings, events, performances outdoors using amplified sound equipment, with no limits on the number of people, the number of cars, or the type of sound equipment,” DeLano said. “That’s like bringing a small outdoor concert into a residential neighborhood.”

The suit also points out that the city is setting aside several areas — which total over 11,000 square feet of space — within the 1.5-acre property for “future development,” but doesn’t provide any information on what those uses might be.

Officials said in the environmental report that any future development on the property would have to undergo its own design review and environmental analysis. City officials have floated the idea of building a cafe or a restaurant or some other commercial development on those areas.

DeLano said the state environmental regulations require that the city provide some analysis of those future uses.

The City Council unanimously voted in January to approved the environmental report prepared by San Diego-based Recon Environmental Inc.

DeLano said his client and city officials tried to negotiate an agreement but those talks failed.

Del Mar had been talking for years about how to replace its nearly 60-year-old City Hall. A former schoolhouse built in 1956, the building is about 9,200 square feet, but nearly half of it is limited to storage due to safety concerns. Demolition began on the old building last month and construction of the new facility is scheduled to begin in October.

During the work, a temporary City Hall has been created at the South Fair complex at 2010 Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

The Civic Center complex will feature a 3,200-square-foot town hall on the southwest corner of the existing City Hall property on Camino Del Mar.

Behind the town hall, a separate 9,250-square-foot administrative building would house city offices and workers and a 15,000-square-foot civic plaza would provide open space for community activities.

The complex will sit on top of an underground, two-level parking garage with about 160 spots, covering the eastern two thirds of the property along Camino Del Mar between Tenth and Eleventh streets.

A status hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for October.

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