As Del Mar moves toward an election which is intended to replace Measure B with Form Based Codes (FBC) for revitalizing the commercial core, major questions arise as to whether or not citizens have the facts necessary to make informed decisions regarding what is being proposed.
Basically, the plan is to replace traditional commercial zones with FBC codes which are intended to encourage redevelopment of individual commercial properties by offering greater density complemented by public improvements, particularly those enhancing the streetscape.
The FBC Committee has been working diligently for many months, but the level of community information and involvement is woefully inadequate. Many dramatic changes are being considered in terms of building height, bulk, development types and traffic circulation.
Some residents believe the change will affect not only the immediate downtown commercial area, but might negatively impact adjacent residential areas in terms of increased traffic, noise, vehicular pollution, and a deterioration of what is often described as the “village environment.” There is much concern about how views from private residences on the hill will be impacted by taller structures.
Those who staunchly defend the Form Based Code developmental approach maintain that sensitive environmental planning could mitigate such negative impacts. More importantly, they note that the process of FBC planning and development would encourage new development, positively contributing to the city’s financial situation. They cite communities in California, and elsewhere, which have successfully used FBC as a means of redesigning, revitalizing and beatifying core areas.
In order to make well-informed ballot decisions voters need from the FBC Committee some version of an environmental report that details any impacts caused by greater density, traffic, parking, noise, views, stationary pollution, vehicular pollution and how beach and park use is connected to commercial activity. A financial study needs to be completed that projects changes to property taxes when properties are either sold to new owners or developed by current owners. Voters will need more analysis of the type of tenants likely to occupy these new spaces with higher lease rates.
If FBC is to be successfully implemented in Del Mar it must offer policies, detailed plans and strategies which define and achieve a truly viable village environment—one offering more than shopping, one demonstrating the blending of man-made and natural environments, and one which acknowledges the economic realities confronting cities and citizens.
Unless we are offered such comprehensive, visionary and realistic proposals, we are headed for a contentious election, a likely defeat of the new FBC, and another frustrating delay in creating a viable downtown commercial center.