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Revitalization: A Proposal Too FAR?
July 2008 | by Mark Whitehead and Wayne Dernetz


“The only incentive is increasing FAR”, argued councilmember Richard Earnest in describing the willingness of property owners to invest in improving the village commercial center. Earnest's revitalization subcommittee co-member Carl Hilliard agreed urging “we promised loosening of overly restrictive [zoning] ordinances”. They introduced a list of ten suggested zoning changes at the June 2 city council meeting. These ideas may shape a new village specific plan, budgeted for the Coming year.

Many of the recommended changes met with positive reactions from the council. These proposals were generated by recent discussions between the council subcommittee, commercial property owners and planning staff. To deal with parking impacts from telemarketing businesses, one recommendation would require a minimum floor area of 125 sq. ft. per employee. “Stringent” restaurant off-street parking requirements would be relaxed from 1 per 90 sq. ft. to 1 per 120 sq. ft. Outdoor dining areas less than 800 sq. ft., considered a desirable ambiance, would require no off street parking. Sidewalk cafes could generate City revenues to finance streetscape improvements. Other parking changes would allow businesses to share parking to improve utilization of existing spaces.

Other parking relief would allow owners to pay “in lieu fees” where off-street cannot be provided. The revenue would be used to construct public underground parking lots. Parking regulations may also be eased in return for owners constructing ADA-compliant frontage improvements.

The most controversial proposals are increasing commercial retail FAR from 45% to 100% and raising height limitations along the west side of Camino del Mar from 14 to 26 feet. These proposals were described as compatible with standards in other cities and are needed to stimulate redevelopment investment. Also, they would allow residential units on a second story that would help meet state-mandated affordable-housing requirements.

The proposed changes in FAR were described by some councilmembers as a “non-starter” and by others as “essential, the only incentive for property owners that matters”. Concerns about view blockage resulting from the increased building heights could be addressed by protecting ocean-view corridors under a specific plan, said supporters.

Watch for these Revitalization Zoning items to appear on upcoming Planning Commission agendas  


Public speakers from the business community supported the changes. James Watkins lamented that “nothing has happened downtown for many years, we need a more exciting village for residents”. Walt Beerle, representing the Village Association praised the effort, “we are behind you all the way”. Resident Bettina Experton, a member of the City's finance committee, also supported the proposals citing an urgent need for the increased revenues they would bring, especially considering the new debt burden the City is assuming for purchase of the Shores site. Long term resident Chuck Newton cautioned that “property owners should pay their fair share.”

The entire council expressed interest in hearing more from the public in future meetings before moving the Action Plan forward, particularly regarding the controversial recommendations on increasing commercial FAR and height restrictions. Hearings on the proposals before the City's Planning Commission are also anticipated.


Mark Whitehead is a former Mayor of Del Mar, Wayne Derntez is a former City Manager of Del Mar.



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