The Design Review Board (DRB) has played a crucial role in the history of development in Del Mar. This board implements the vision which is spelled out in our constitution, the Community Plan. Much of what we value today in the scale and character of our community of neighborhoods has come from the cumulative effect of years of DRB decisions.
Early on Del Mar made an important strategic decision to go against what was the conventional wisdom about unrestricted property rights. Del Mar’s vision has been that every property development, whether new or remodeled, must respect and balance the rights of three segments of the community: the developer, the neighbors, and the entire community.
We saw then, and continue to see today, other communities that allow individual property owners to build in ways that diminish the value of neighboring properties and degrade the overall character of the community. The syndrome is called “mansionization,” building show-off, over-sized houses that clash with the neighborhood. Examples abound in communities like Fairbanks Ranch and San Diego, including some neighborhoods nearby.
Del Mar’s vision has been more communitarian. We clearly own our indivdual properties but we also jointly own our neighborhoods and the entire town. We are determined not to destroy our village character. That is the vision.
Implementing that vision is not always easy but the DRB along with the Planning Commission and City Council have been reasonably successful in balancing these interests and rights over the years.
The result is a community we are proud of and is the envy of many other communities. Property values reflect the success of our efforts.
The challenges of the DRB are difficult: not allowing views to be destroyed, not permitting privacy of adjacent properties to be invaded, not allowing structures that are too big and out of scale with adjacent properties, not permitting inadequate side yards and setbacks and rear yards--even though permitted by the Zoning ordinance and have a negative impact upon adjacent properties, being sensitive to the design or aesthetics of adjacent or neighborhood character and natural amenities, preventing inadequate landscaping, discouraging totally inappropriate architecture...the list is long and the task difficult.
We question whether some members of the current DRB understand and embrace this quality control role they are expected to implement. Deliberations seem to be tilting toward a property rights orientation, with neighbor interests being discounted or ignored, and cumulative impacts on the character of the larger community not even discussed. This trend flies in the face of our community history and can eat into the overall character of the entire community.
We would like to see the City Council exert its leadership in aligning and re-energizing the roles of the DRB, the Planning Commission, and the Council itself which sometimes plays a role in development decisions. This could be accomplished by initiating training sessions, holding a public workshop, and creating a task force to clearly define roles and expectations of these three decision-making bodies.
We shouldn’t take our future for granted. Recharging our values and systems would be a good investment in our future.