Del Mar looking to fairgrounds as site for new affordable housing

DEL MAR, Calif. (FOX 5/KUSI) — An affordable housing development may be on its way to the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

On Monday, the Del Mar City Council voted to approve an exclusive negotiating agreement with the 22nd District Agricultural Association to consider leasing one to two acres of the state-owned fairgrounds to the city for the construction of 61 units of low-income housing.

The negotiating agreement has been in the works for more than a year to help the city reach the goals it laid out in its Housing Element, or a blueprint cities are required to submit to the state that outlines how it plans to accommodate its residents’ housing needs, approved last year.

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According to city documents, the deal the two sides reached lays out a two-year framework for identifying and drawing up a potential ground lease between the Del Mar city manager and the 22nd District Agricultural Association, also known as the fair board, beginning on April 15.

If the negotiations are successful, the city’s lease could last up to 55 years and satisfy half of the 113 affordable housing units it is expected to create in the next six years under its 2021 Housing Element.

“This is huge and the community is very thankful,” Del Mar Mayor Dave Druker said at Monday’s city council meeting. “This becomes a demonstration of how the state can help.”

However, the fair board’s ad hoc committee on affordable housing appeared to express more of cautious resolve heading into the negotiation period with the city of Del Mar.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to find a site. But this actually puts us in a position where we can have that discussion and, hopefully, come forward with some recommendations,” Kathryn Mead, chair of the committee, said at a Feb. 22 meeting of the fair board.

The board will have “first and final say” over what will come out of the negotiations with the city, she continued. Nonetheless, members of the board expressed some skepticism of a possible affordable housing project on the fairgrounds.

“Is this a suitable site for affordable housing? That should be our question,” board member Lisa Barkett said at the meeting. “I just feel like we are getting ahead of ourselves.”

“I’m very concerned about the housing crisis in San Diego,” said board member Michael Gelfand, adding that he was glad they were negotiating with Del Mar exclusively. “I would hate for the fairgrounds to be seen as the place that San Diego’s housing crisis is going to be solved.”

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The agreement comes amid heightened scrutiny around Del Mar’s progress towards expanding its portfolio of affordable housing, highlighted in a lawsuit against the city from the developer of a controversial mixed-income housing project for claimed state housing law violations.

And SANDAG’s efforts to move the area’s train tracks away from the Del Mar bluffs could pose an additional barrier to any affordable housing plans at the fairgrounds, as Voice of San Diego reported in November.

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