May 2010 home page


Appealing Design
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera

Photo graphic Art Olson


It seems as if the residents of Del Mar are constantly in a “love-hate” relationship with the Design Review Board – and its role as the principal gatekeeper in the property development process. Most of us love the way Del Mar looks, and appreciate the role that the DRB plays in maintaining the human scale, and unique character of our city. It affords us all a say in how we think our neighborhoods should evolve.

However, when it comes to our own development plans, it may appear as a daunting hurdle to attaining the home of our dreams. The DRB, however, is not the court of last resort in deciding what can and cannot be built in Del Mar. In fact, the DRB serves subordinate to the City Council, and its determinations may be considered only advisory if the DRB decision is appealed.

For a fee (currently $250) either project applicant or any project opponent can file an appeal to the City Council within 10 days of the board’s decision. After an appeal has been filed, the City Council will hold an “initial consideration” hearing, where they evaluate the written appeal document and any written responses as well 3 minutes of oral comments each from applicant and appellant. No rebuttal or other public comment is heard and no council discussion takes place. Unless at least two Council members decide they want to set a de novo hearing on the matter, the DRB decision will be considered affirmed. If a hearing is set, then the City Council will hear the application at a subsequent Council meeting, and function in place of the Design Review Board without consideration of any prior hearing.

So, how has the DRB done in the recent past? According to Senior Planner, Adam Birnbaum, from 2006 through 2009 there have been 89 determinations of full applications by the Design Review Board. Of those 89 a total of 7 applications were appealed to the City Council. Of those 7 only 2 went to a de novo hearing, and only one Council decision went counter to the original DRB determination. These statistics seem to indicate that the DRB is doing a remarkably good job, since not only are the vast majority of DRB decisions uncontested, the City Council concurs with their action in almost every single case. Love it or not, the Design Review Board works for Del Mar.



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