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Financial Stars Aligned - Fair Value | Fairgrounds in the Zone


Fairgrounds in the Zone
Dwight Worden | Seaview Avenue

I have long advocated that the City of Del Mar should adopt a Community Plan Element and substantive zoning requirements applicable to the Fairgrounds. We should set out our vision for what is appropriate at the Fairgrounds, and the way a city does this is by adopting zoning and planning documents for this property within its boundaries. Adopting these planning documents would be beneficial in at least three respects (1) it would help Del Mar regulate those aspects of Fairgrounds activities that it does have the legal authority to regulate (2) it would put our “vision” on record for use by the Coastal Commission and other state and federal agencies that do regulate the Fairgrounds and (3) it would put in place the operative development restrictions should the Fairgrounds be sold to a private party.

Surprisingly, Del Mar has never done this. Yes, it’s true that the Fairgrounds is operated by the 22nd District Agricultural Association which is a state agency and that many of its activities are exempt from local zoning and planning requirements.

However, not everything the Fairgrounds does is exempt. Only those activities which are in furtherance of its state charter are entitled to exemption and other activities are not. And, we have zoning applicable to other government owned property in town, why not for the Fairgrounds? Yes, it’s also true that it can sometimes be very challenging to distinguish exempt from non-exempt activities. However, by not having zoning and planning provisions applicable to the Fairgrounds Del Mar has, in my view, imprudently left everything to be decided by the Fair Board.

Here’s how Del Mar could address this situation. First, begin the process to adopt a Community Plan Element and substantive zoning provisions applicable to the Fairgrounds property. As with all such proposals, hearings would be held at the Del Mar Planning Commission and City Council, environmental review would be conducted, etc.. As an affected property owner the 22nd District would receive notice and have the right to participate in these hearings, but importantly, the hearings would be held at Del Mar City Hall and controlled by Del Mar with the Del Mar City Council, not the Fair Board, making the final decisions.

Second, the substantive provisions of the new Community Plan chapter and zoning would set traditional requirements. For example, these documents would set height limits, floor area limits, established parking requirements, etc.. These new documents should acknowledge that some Fairgrounds activities and projects are exempt, but the Del Mar documents can require that the Ag District apply to the City of Del Mar for confirmation of such exemptions. There is precedent for this approach.

Done properly, adoption of such a Community Plan Element and substantive zoning requirements would mean that the next time the Fairgrounds has a development project it would need to apply to Del Mar and either prove that it was entitled to exemption or obtain the necessary City of Del Mar permits. Wouldn’t that be nice for change? To have the Fairgrounds bring its projects to Del Mar for public review and action. And, wouldn’t it be nice to have a Del Mar vision set out in our Community Plan and zoning reflecting what Del Mar believes are the appropriate development parameters for the Fairgrounds? And, if there is any possibility that the Fairgrounds might be sold into private hands it will be essential that Del Mar have its planning and zoning requirements as a matter of record so that buyers can know before they buy what is allowed.


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