April 2010 home page

  Del Mar FBC Committee Answers Questions Posted in the February 2010 Sandpiper
Howard Gad | Chairman of the Form-Based Code Committee


In Tony Corso’s Sandpiper article last month, he listed sixteen questions regarding the work underway by our Form-Based Code (FBC) Committee.  Most of those questions appeared to be generated from Design Review Board and Planning Commission members following a January joint meeting hosted by our Committee.  Our Committee is made up of a diverse, nine member group of Del Mar residents appointed by the City Council and we all have varying views that need to be shared, then brought forward to consensus at our meetings.  The FBC Committee felt it important to answer those questions as quickly and clearly as possible, even though we have not completed our work.  Del Mar residents should keep in mind that these answers may evolve or change to some extent as we receive additional input from community members, property owners, consultants and others.   We will hold public community workshops this spring and plan to have recommendations complete by this summer. 

The answers below reflect my opinion as to our committee’s general consensus on the various subjects, but individual members may have differing opinions.  Once our work is complete and all members are in agreement on the recommendations, then a final report will be issued.  Our Ad Hoc committee is a recommending body only and final recommendations will go first to the Planning Commission then to the City Council for approval.  If readers need additional information or clarification they can contact Brian Mooney, Interim Development and Community Services Director at 858.755.9313.

Question 1:
Is the reduction of travel lanes on Camino Del Mar reasonable in light of additional development the FBC program hopes to generate?

Answer 1:
We cannot answer that question absolutely until we finish our work on the ultimate build-out density downtown and have a traffic engineer complete an analysis.  In a preliminary analysis based on certain assumptions, it appears reducing CDM to one lane in each direction will work if stop signs at 11th and 13th are replaced with traffic circles.  Traffic circles can move traffic substantially more efficiently through town.  Peak time traffic back-ups are caused primarily by stop signs which halt cars even though, in most cases, there is no cross traffic to stop for.  The signals at 9th and 15th can also be adjusted to allow more flow at peak periods.

The reduction of travel lanes on Camino Del Mar is not a new idea. Both the Community Plan and the Del Mar 2000 Plan, debated and publicly vetted in the 1980’s, called for reducing Camino Del Mar to one lane in each direction in order to enhance the “village” atmosphere.  The added community benefit would be a smoother, safer transition of vehicles through town, more pedestrian friendly streets, safer bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks and approximately 100 additional diagonal public parking spaces conveniently located on CDM.

If the traffic study indicates that one lane in each direction won’t work, then we have two other alternatives:

  • One lane southbound with diagonal parking and two lanes northbound with parallel parking
  • Two lanes both directions with parallel parking from 13th to 15th streets and set back diagonal parking from 9th to 13th streets

Question 2:
What steps might be taken to maintain the “village environment” as new development occurs?

Answer 2:
 The City Council decided last year that the best way to revitalize downtown and enhance the “village character” desired by the community was to implement FBC zoning in place of the current zoning.  Current zoning controls development intensity through abstract and uncoordinated parameters such as set-backs, dwellings per acre, floor area ratios, height restrictions and parking ratios without taking into consideration the existing “built” environment or other potential opportunities to enhance the community.  On the other hand, FBC zoning is a planning method regulating development to achieve a specific building form on a lot by lot basis within an established community’s central core. This type of zoning can create a predictable public appearance primarily by controlling the physical form of buildings, streets, sidewalks or other public structures with a lesser focus on land use.  The regulations and standards in FBC zoning are presented in diagrams, drawings and words that are then keyed to a “regulating plan” that designates the appropriate form and scale of development rather than land use types.  FBCs are drafted to achieve a community vision based on time tested forms of urbanization.

Question 3:
What are the characteristics of a “village environment?”

Answer 3:
The best description can be found in the Community Plan and the Del Mar 2000 plan. Specifically, Goal 4 of the Community Plan states:  "Focus major retail and office activity into one economically viable, pedestrian oriented, and attractive area that serves the needs of both residents and visitors and is well integrated into the residential fabric of the community."  Over the years, City funded studies and surveys have concluded that the downtown core is not pedestrian friendly, is not conducive for convenient shopping, is deteriorating and as a result is not delivering the revenue stream necessary for the City to function in a fiscally responsible manner. Downtown will continue to deteriorate if the current process for redevelopment of exiting properties is not modified.

Question 4:
How do you avoid charges of discrimination when you give benefits to some property owners, based upon location or the characteristics of present development, and not to others (equity issue)?

Answer 4:
FBC will be a public zoning document providing clear and objective development directives for all property owners in the Village core.  It is contemplated that the proposed FBC would not diminish a property owner’s current rights. Basically all commercial property owners will benefit; however, some properties may receive benefits based on their location, specific site attributes and other factors as allowed under the California Assembly Bill 1268. This Bill, signed into law in July 2004, placed "form-based zoning" into state statutes that regulate how California develops and institutionalized form-based zoning for the first time in California history.  This bill ratified the “Smart Growth” planning concept and removed all doubt that community plans and zoning codes in California can go beyond conventional land use planning and zoning techniques to make it easier to create great places combining mixed uses in the same buildings (retail, office and residential). 

Question 5:
Are increases in density or floor area ratios enough to entice property owners to explore additions or modifications to their property?

Answer 5:
Increases in allowable building area, modifications to the parking requirements, adjustments to the building height requirements, mixed use allowances and a more predictable approval process are all required to present commercial property owners sufficient incentives to undertake the time, effort and risk required for redevelopment of downtown properties.  So the answer to the question is no, it will take more than just increases in density. 

The historic combination of factors which drives potential downtown revitalization, or the lack thereof, including tax and financing costs, rental rates, parking and access, and  zoning processes in Del Mar have failed to generate the revitalization and investment in downtown that the Community Plan calls for and which the community wants. If we want to revitalize the downtown, we need to explore and implement proven methods to allow us to fulfill the Community Plan and the desires of the community. FBC appears to be the best vehicle in this regard recognizing that some important factors are market and private enterprise driven and are beyond the reach even of FBC.

Question 6:
In terms of encouraging mixed uses, particularly on the second floor of some existing development, would
the project consider restaurants, as well as offices and residential development?

Answer 6:
Yes, but the FBC will encourage office and residential uses for second level space with retail and restaurant uses on the Street levels.

Question 7:
At what point is a determination made of the overall environmental impact (positive and negative) that might result from the project?

Answer 7:
The City Council has directed the FBC Committee to evaluate various options for implementing a plan that will revitalize the downtown core and present the options to the public for thorough review and comment. The Committee has had all it’s meetings in public, has encouraged property owners and the community at large to participate and recently solicited the valued opinions of both the DRB and the Planning Commission to provide comments to the  the analysis to date. We plan on presenting the options to the Community in a public workshop in approximately two months to gain input and will then finalize our recommendation.  Those recommendations will then be presented to the Planning Commission and City Council for consideration. Assuming these two bodies agree with the draft recommendations, then the detailed environmental analysis will proceed.  Depending on the results of the environmental report, some adjustments may need to be made to the recommendations prior to final approval by the Planning Commission and City Council.

Question 8:
What will be the final role of the Planning Commission and the Design Review Committee in the program?

Answer 8:
The Planning Commission will need to vote on the FBC Ad Hoc committee's recommendations for final adoption by the City Council.  The FBC falls under the zoning code amendments which are under the Planning Commission’s advisory jurisdiction and enacted by the City Council.  The Design Review Ordinance and the Design Review Board function are within the building code, not zoning, so while the DRB's input has been and will continue to be solicited it has no jurisdiction over adoption of a zoning code amendment and will not vote on the final FBC zoning.  That being said, the FBC committee has solicited input from the DRB and sees a role for the DRB at the application stage as it occurs now.  What areas or sections of the Design Review Ordinance will apply is being discussed within a subcommittee of the FBC committee and has not been determined at this time.  

Question 9:
Where and when is their (DRB) input sought?

Answer 9:
The FBC is currently working on answering this question.  The FBC Committee hosted a joint meeting with the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board January 28th. We requested at various meetings input from the DRB and have received written comments. Additional staff presentations are made to the DRB regularly to keep them informed. We would encourage all interested parties, including DRB members, to view on line videos of the many public meetings held since May of 2009.  Meeting videos can be viewed on the City’s Website under the Form-Based Code section and we encourage individual DRB members to attend our future meetings to voice their opinions. We are intending to include specific recommendations on what the DRB role will be in reviewing applications under the FBC and at this point the options are under consideration and ripe for input.

Question 10:
What might be done with property owners who reject participation in the program, particularly when their
participation could have a dramatic impact upon the total design?

Answer 10:
The FBC will not force the commercial property owner to do anything if they want to leave their property as is.  If they do want to redevelop, then they will fall under the requirements of the new FBC zoning and any associated design guidelines included in the new code.  The committee is reviewing what, if any, alternatives would be available to property owners if they wanted to redevelop, but did not want to follow the FBC zoning.

Question 11:
What is the overall financial impact of the proposed development upon the City’s financial situation?

Answer 11:
The FBC is being developed with minimal costs to the City by using primarily City staff supplemented by graduate architectural students who are developing much of the graphics.  However, additional costs for outside consultants to draft the environmental documents will be required.  As far as the financial impact once the new FBC zoning is put in place, that will be evaluated and made public after the initial public presentation of various options have been considered.  The committee anticipates public comments and with it, will recommend a FBC fiscal impact review. The objective of the FBC process is to facilitate the long term downtown revitalization which would reverse the current trend of diminishing revenues and property decay.  A revitalized downtown should increase sales tax, property tax, transit occupancy tax and parking revenue to the City.

Question 12:
Is there some way development on commercial parcels, as precipitated by FBC might, be illustrated, perhaps in three dimensions, so as to give the average citizen a better idea as to what is being proposed?

Answer 12:
The FBC committee is developing illustrations and 3D electronic models in such a manner that all interested parties can arrive at a well informed and educated opinion.  We are also considering having an actual model of downtown developed with the new forms applied, pending the cost and timing.

Question 13:
How might potential view blockages be determined?

Answer 13:
The FBC committee objective is to preserve primary scenic view corridors as envisioned in the Community Plan; however, the determination as to what is “unreasonable view blockage” may need to be more objectively defined for the downtown area. Some view studies have already been completed by the FBC committee and staff.  Whether storey poles will be required as part of FBC adoption, as part of individual applications, as part of a preliminary view corridor determinations, or at some other time is still under discussion. The intent is to provide an applicant reasonable predictability as to view blockage issues early in the approval process.  Once a building envelope is approved, the applicant would proceed with other required plans as determined by the FBC requirements.  It is also an objective and goal that modifications to the current zoning with the new FBC zoning could expand public and private view corridors in downtown that may otherwise be lost under current zoning.

Question 14:
Can they be ascertained prior to submittal of applications for development?

Answer 14:
FBC will be designed to determine and protect current view corridors wherever practical in compliance with the Community Plan.  The DRO had an early view corridor determination process that the FBC is considering incorporating into the FBC.  However, absent such an early view corridor determination, it is expected that the final determination on two story structures most likely will occur at the development application stage as it does today.  This process has not been fully defined at this time.  Public input is welcome.

Question 15:
How might the review process differ from that presently conducted with proposals under current zoning requirements?

Answer 15:
The objective of FBC is to provide more predictability in the development approval process so property owners are encouraged to redevelop their property.  Because the general forms and massing will be predetermined in the FBC approach, a revised design review process may be developed for properties within Del Mar’s central core.  A FBC subcommittee is studying this currently and will come back to the full committee with reasonable recommendations.  And, it may be that all, or most, of the currently existing nonconforming structures in the downtown
(there are many) will be made conforming by the new FBC zoning, perhaps with conditions regarding parking and other issues important to the community.  The elimination of non conforming status should help provide additional incentives for redevelopment and would avoid the need to undergo the current process for reviewing proposed modifications to nonconforming structures.  Finally, with respect to the development review process and public vote on the FBC and measure B, the FBC committee is discussing how best to approach these issues and welcomes input.

Question 16:
Is the further expansion of retail development reasonable given the present economic situation?
What is the expected time frame in which one might expect the project to begin and reach fruition?

Answer 16:
The FBC is not a short term planning guide and objective.  It is contemplated that once the economic climate improves, Del Mar would be well poised to encourage and experience desired development in our downtown core. While the current economic situation may not be conducive for development, it is clear that since the inception of the Community Plan more then 30 years ago, Del Mar has experienced at least two of the most successful real estate expansions in California and San Diego history.  However, while Del Mar has seen some important downtown redevelopment in those thirty years such as the Del Mar Plaza, the L'Auberge, a number of restaurants and a smattering of other projects, by and large Del Mar’s retail core has not improved during these expansion periods commensurate with what might be expected.  Many factors contribute to this holding back of downtown revitalization including zoning and development requirements.  The FBC will help alleviate this problem and hopefully encourage redevelopment.

Question 17:
In terms of presentation of a final FBC proposal, what might be presented—sketches? Models? A set of guidelines, policies and procedures?

Answer 17:
Yes, all of the above will be required for public hearings and the environmental review.

Question 18:
What is the time schedule for presentation to the City Council, property owners and to the public?

Answer 18:
We envision a presentation of the various options in a public workshop in May 2010, depending on our progress.  The objective is to gather and evaluate all public comments and make a recommendation for technical evaluation early this summer.  The length of the environmental impact review will determine when the final document goes to Planning and City Council for review and formal approval. The environmental work and all necessary approvals may be completed by year end 2010.  It will be up to the City Council to determine if the final FBC zone change will require a public vote.

Question 19: 
What steps are to be taken leading up to the City Council presentation?

Answer 19:
The FBC process has been as transparent as possible. All meetings have requested public participation and are viewable on video archives on the City Website. We encourage all members of the public to attend our meetings and participate so our committee has the benefit of input from all segments of Del Mar citizenry.  As previously discussed, the steps to City Council approval include a series of public meetings or workshops, selection of preferred alternatives by the FBC committee, production of an environmental document, Planning Commission hearings and finally City Council approval. The City Council will determine if a public vote is required.


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