October 2009 home page


Reviewing the DRB
Anthony Corso | Stratford Court

This piece is the first in a series.  Additional interviews will be published in the November and December print editions.

Lee Haydu.  Photo Tony Corso

The Design Review Ordinance (DRO) was one of the first and most important tools created by the city in the 70s to guide the implementation of the newly adopted Community Plan. It seems appropriate to occasionally “Review Design Review” since the process is vital to guiding future development. We start with the basics. The city's planning guide says Design Review is intended to preserve and improve the City of Del Mar as a beautiful, pleasant residential community in which to live, work, shop and pursue leisure time activities. Design Review also acts to preserve property values, the natural environment, primary scenic views and the aesthetic quality of the Community.

The Design Review Process and Criteria Used

The Design Review Process is conducted by a seven-member citizen committee appointed by the City Council; it reviews projects to evaluate their consistency with the City’s Design Review Ordinance. The DRO covers a broad range of criteria used to evaluate a proposed project: protection of scenic views; fortification of privacy of adjacent properties; accommodation of individuals with physical disabilities; protection of adjacent property’s outdoor spaces; harmony of architectural design with neighborhood properties in terms of color, type and quality of materials and scale; suitability of landscape treatment and design; conformity with lighting or noise levels in the neighborhood; screening of unattractive features e.g. trash enclosures, transformers etc. and, most important, consistency with criteria established by the Community Plan and Zoning Ordinance.

Steps in the Review Process

The review process includes: submittal of an application with accompanying documents and plans; staff review for conformity with Zoning requirements; submittal of staff report to DRB; the DRB reviews of the project at a noticed meeting at which time the applicant and interested parties may address the DRB; determination of conformity with the Design Review Ordinance and subsequent approval (often with conditions) or disapproval or continuance to a subsequent meeting to allow for modification. Once approved the applicant prepares a set of more detailed drawings for submittal to the Building Department for plan check and receipt of building permits. The decisions of the DRB may be appealed to the City Council.


Lee Haydu, DRB Chair, says "The Design Review Board acts to gives citizens a voice and, as we know, Del Mar is a very vocal town. I look at this as a very positive and significant factor in the Board’s decision-making process. My focus as the Chair of the Board is the neighborhood. Of prime consideration is the architectural design and landscape characteristics of a particular neighborhood and the degree to which the proposed development complements or detracts from adjacent properties and the overall neighborhood environment.

“I often feel that one of our major functions is to educate neighborhood residents, who are often unable to read or interpret development plans or storey poles, may not fully understand what is being proposed, nor comprehend our quasi-judicial design review process.”

Cartoon by John Dempsey


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