about us


readers' page


web archives

print archives

photo gallery

contact us

support us

DRB Nuts and Bolts and Story Poles
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera


Photo Google Images.  Click on image to enlarge.

Building or remodeling a structure in Del Mar is often perceived as onerous, a process which can pit neighbor against neighbor and result in protracted negotiations and unanticipated or unwanted changes in project design. However, as we look around our city, we see the pleasant, human scale village in which we live. Del Mar has ambience and charm as well as property values that are the envy of cities near and far. This is no fluke, but rather is the result of a process and a group of dedicated volunteer citizens who serve on the Design Review Board.

The Design Review Board (DRB) is a committee of seven citizens selected by the City Council to serve a term of 4 years reviewing all significant property development within the boundaries of Del Mar. Its function is to carry out the intent and scope of the City’s Design Review Ordinances (DRO). The ordinance chapter clearly spells out its purpose as follows: “…As a means to implement the Del Mar Community Plan intended to preserve and improve the City of Del Mar as a beautiful, pleasant, residential community in which to live, work, shop, and pursue leisure time activities, and in order to protect the property values, natural environment, primary scenic views and the aesthetic quality of the community, this Chapter is to be applied in furtherance of the health, safety, and general welfare of the City.”

Photo Google Images.  Click on image to enlarge.

The DRO chapter contains 18 pages of procedures, definitions, and regulatory conclusions regarding the permitted nature and scope of property development in Del Mar. Within the context of these DROs, DRB members review each development application by reading the City Planning Department’s reports on the proposed project and the applicant’s detailed plans and blueprints for the project. They also must review any correspondence pertaining to the project that is conveyed to the planning department. In addition, DRB members typically visit any project site that requires story poles depicting the envelope of proposed structures. These tasks can be difficult and time consuming. But, that’s just the beginning. Each month the DRB meets to review the pending applications in order to make a determination as to whether the project complies with the Design Review Ordinances and should be approved for permits to be issued. To deny a project, the DRB must make “findings of fact” that the project violates one or more of the regulatory conclusions of the ordinance.

Many applications sail through the process with no neighbor objections or perceived violations of the DRO’s. These typically will be put on the meeting’s consent calendar and not discussed in public hearing. However if there is a request for the project to be discussed by anyone, a public hearing must be held. There is a relatively new mandated pre- DRB meeting procedure called the “Citizen’s Participation Program” (CPP) in which neighbors can express their concerns on a project early enough so that equitable solutions can be worked out prior to the applicant’s preparation and submission of final plans. However, there are still a growing number of applications that go to a DRB public hearing.

Concerns over loss of scenic views, character of neighborhood, privacy, light and air and impacts of bulk and mass are some of the typical issues that are contended, discussed and weighed in these hearings. After deliberation of the Board a decision to approve, or deny can be made. The DRB may continue the application to allow for a revised project to be presented at a subsequent DRB meeting if the applicant concurs. Project approval or denial can be appealed to the City Council within ten days of DRB decision. At least two City Council members must vote to hear the appeal before the Council takes it on as a de novo hearing in lieu of the DRB.

The DRB process has worked well for the city for over 30 years. It has guided the controlled evolution of Del Mar that has helped it retain the vision of the Community Plan. While it is easy to criticize a process that takes some control out of the hands of property owners for the sake of the broader community, Del Mar would not be the place it is without it. For project applicants and project neighbors alike, there are a few things that can be done to make the process go as smoothly as possible: 1) Read the Design Review Ordinances before starting the design process (or even before buying a property); 2) Appreciate Del Mar’s unique character, and try to harmonize with it. 3) Take the Citizen’s Participation Program seriously and deal frankly with both plans and objections. The more discussion at an early stage, the fewer issues arise in the application process. Neither applicant nor neighbors should try to game the system by “moving the goalpost” after the CPP meeting. Remember, adversaries today, neighbors tomorrow.



© 2007-2015 Del Mar Community Alliance, Inc.  All rights reserved.