By Stacy Brandt utsandiego.com
DEL MAR — Plans to widen the horse track at the Del Mar Fairgrounds could make races safer, more successful and larger, officials said.
The panel that oversees the fairgrounds voted Tuesday to approve a plan for how to deal with the environmental effects of the project.
“This is something that has been in our long-range plan for many years,” said Adam Day, president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors, which oversees the fairgrounds.
The board agreed to have an archeologist and paleontologist on site when digging takes place, restrict the amount of materials hauled away each day, and approve a plan to deal with any hazardous substances that are unexpectedly found.
The project would expand the turf portion of the track while leaving the synthetic portion alone. The overall size of the track would grow by about 25 percent.
“Safety is the number one reason why we’re doing this,” said Josh Rubinstein, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
It will also have an economic benefit by allowing more horses in each race, which is expected to increase the amount of money people bet, Day said. Once the work is done, 14 horses would be able to race at a time, up from 10 now.
Ultimately, the increase could make it possible for the fairgrounds to host the Breeders’ Cup, which is the horse racing equivalent of the Super Bowl. That would bring in lots of money and attention for the area, Day said.
“Hosting the Breeders’ Cup would be a huge win for the county,” he said.
The work is expected to start after racing season this summer and be done in time for next year’s fair. It will cost about $4 million.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved a resolution agreeing to work with the City of Del Mar to create affordable housing on the fairgrounds.
The association said they would consider building as many as 50 units there if the city helps cover the cost.
The resolution says the fair board will work cooperatively with the city as long as the housing fits in with the association’s master plan, is approved by the California Coastal Commission and the city agrees to cover any extra costs associated with converting the homes.
The Del Mar City Council signed a similar resolution last month, committing to work with the fair board to incorporate affordable housing units as part of planned renovations at the fairgrounds and to look for the extra money needed for any construction.
The property being considered for the project now houses dormitory-style buildings for workers that don’t include a kitchen, which is needed to count as low-income housing.
Because the state property lies almost completely within city limits, any units built on the property would count towards Del Mar’s housing requirement.
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