Del Mar … we have a problem … or two. Mansionization is increasing its profile in Del Mar – with massive steel structures rising in some of our neighborhoods. At the same time people are disappearing from the City’s houses --- two trends that don’t bode well for those of us who remain. Over the past 20 years the City of Del Mar has lost almost 20% of our residents – even though the housing stock has remained constant, with some of the newest homes supersizing. These disturbing trends are the paradoxical consequence of our increasing property values and an evolving trend in real estate activity. In fact, more and more of these houses are becoming second or third homes for an elite group of mostly out-of-state buyers who can spend the money but not much time in our community.
Mansionization, alone, can change the very nature of our neighborhoods, from an eco-friendly, human-scale environment into a series of walled-off private enclaves with little connection to their surrounding community. The trend toward large trophy homes in the City leads to disputes and acrimony over both private and community resources, such as scenic views, disruption of neighborhood character, and perception of open space. Ironically, in many cases, the larger the home, the lower the occupancy.
Unoccupied homes and absent homeowners can be a burden on all of us. Not only are absent owners unlikely to contribute meaningfully to our community and its vibrancy, but empty houses create significant cracks in neighborhood cohesion that can affect appearance, safety and piece of mind. Some of these mostly vacant properties are not well kept up. Untended yards and other signs of resident absence can blight a neighborhood and attract pranksters, burglars, and uninvited partiers. Moreover, local property issues, whether they concern new development, vegetation growth, fire safety, street repairs, or other matters of import to a neighborhood are more difficult to deal with when there is no one available to contact. A healthy community is one where neighbors know each other and can communicate easily.
The first steps in addressing a problem are to recognize that one exists, evaluate its scope, and then explore ways to halt its causes or if that is not feasible, at least minimize and mitigate its impacts. We think that the Del Mar City Council should begin to assess the effects the increasing trends toward mansionization and marginally occupied second homes in our community and examine how other communities may be dealing with them. We suggest that the city consider a moratorium on residential projects larger than a specified size, at least in the R2 zone, until permanent changes in our design review ordinances can codify a policy that restricts unacceptable supersizing. With regard to unoccupied second homes, it may not be possible to reverse the trend, but we should develop ways to mitigate its consequences. We feel that it is time to establish an ad hoc committee to look into possible remedies. It is better to face these issues now than to wait until we experience even greater negative impacts on Del Mar’s fundamental character.