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Form Your Opinions

Dwight Worden | Seaview


Del Mar has appointed a Form Based Code (“FBC”) ad hoc committee to begin implementing a FBC for the downtown business district of Del Mar. Put simply, under traditional zoning, like Del Mar’s current code, standards are set that apply zone wide, e.g., height limits, FAR, parking requirements, setbacks and the like are the same for all properties in the same zone. Under FBCs, each lot has zoning requirements set that are unique to that lot, so neighboring lots may have different height limits, different FARs, etc. The idea under FBCs is to allow development to be tailored to fit each lot and thereby to better fit the community.

Implementing a FBC approach requires a detailed analysis of each lot, identifying its constraints and opportunities with an eye to the needs and desires of the owners. All this is necessary to make sure the program will work for each lot. The Del Mar FBC committee, with the assistance of Del Mar staff, has embarked on this process of examination lot by lot.

I believe the FBC approach can be good for Del Mar provided, and it’s a big provided, that in each case a community impact analysis is done to identify how the proposed changes would benefit, or cause detriment, to the community as a whole. If the net effect of going to a FBC system is not a community-wide benefit then I would not support the program. So, here are my thoughts on the kinds of factors that should be considered in undertaking such a community impact analysis.

1. Community Serving Retail Enhancement: To the extent the FBC process leads to more square footage of retail services in the downtown that serve the needs of local residents, this would be a benefit to the community. If the FBC process simply adds more retail square footage or office space that is not local serving this would not be a “benefit” to the community unless justified on other grounds, such as revenue to the City.

2. Non-Local Serving Retail Enhancement: Surprisingly perhaps, the total sales tax and business license fee revenues generated by Del Mar’s downtown are a relatively small portion of the City’s overall revenues. And, given the Council’s recent decision to lease sidewalks for cafes at $2 per foot per year, it doesn’t seem that the City can expect significant revenues on this front. So this looks to me to be a benefit, but not a large one.

3. Community Vitality: This may be hard to quantify, but I recognize that there is a difference between a lively, well- designed downtown and a sleepy, under-utilized downtown, with the former being more attractive to residents and visitors alike. So, I see some benefit to improving community vitality, aside from revenue, but recognize it is offset by increased traffic, crowding, etc.

4. Community Beauty: If the FBC process improves the physical appearance of the downtown that would be a community benefit, although there may not be consensus on what this “beautification” would be.

5. Community Safety: To the extent the sidewalks, access ways, etc. are made safer that is a community benefit.

6. Improved Traffic Circulation and Parking: If the FBC process results in traffic improvement and parking enhancements, those would be benefits to the community.

7. Improved Pedestrian Orientation: To the extent the FBC process improves the pedestrian orientation of downtown that would be a benefit.

8. Mixed Use: To the extent the FBC process integrated affordable living quarters into the downtown, say apartments over retail, that would be a benefit to the community by helping to meet affordable housing requirements.
Are there other issues we should be looking at? I would welcome your comments. Dworden@roadrunner.com


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