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DRB: Keep It
Dolores Davies Jamison | Crest Road

Earlier this year, a number of residents came together to discuss a troubling trend in residential development. Far too many new homes stuck out in terms of size, bulk and mass, instead of being in harmony with the existing neighborhood. Residents didn’t feel their concerns were heard during the review process; Applicants also felt ill-served by the process.

This groundswell of community concern convinced the Council to rank an update of the design review process as a top goal. In June the Council appointed an ad hoc committee of residents, former Design Review Board (DRB) and Planning Commission members, a recent applicant, and an architect. Their charge was to review existing design ordinances and processes, get feedback from residents, identify problems with the process, and make recommendations to the Council.

Although this process is both transparent and collaborative—all committee meetings are public, residents are free to give testimony, and a community workshop is scheduled—a few residents who were not selected for the committee want the Council to reverse its actions and appoint new members. This is an odd request, given that over 25 residents applied for a handful of slots, ensuring that some applicants would be disappointed. These same applicants also felt slighted by Mayor Corti’s decision to dispense with interviews. But, interviews, while an option, are not a common practice with an ad hoc committee, whose members are typically appointed by two City Council liaisons. Are these really compelling reasons to start over?
The Committee has now convened 4-5 times, and by all accounts has been making good progress. The appointed members have an impressive level of collective knowledge, experience, and ability, factors which ensure that the community is well-served. The City’s Design Review Ordinances, while tweaked over the years, have not been under a microscope since the late-1980s. So we are not taking advantage of today’s technology, which enables us to communicate much more effectively, clearly, and transparently to greater numbers of people, with images that help to define vague terms that mean different things to different people.

A cursory look at web pages of cities like Santa Barbara, Carmel, and Saratoga, reveals how much more fully and transparently these desirable cities define the character of their neighborhoods, what kind of residential projects are desirable and compatible with their communities, and what standards must be met in order to gain approval. In Del Mar, both applicants and the residents have complained of too much subjectivity in the process. Both parties would benefit from added clarity, transparency, and more tangible guidance at the front end of the process.

How will this impact our property values? Positively. It is well-documented that design review guidelines help enhance and stabilize property values, making a desirable community even more desirable. Our community’s desirability can be attributed to coastal location, quality of development, neighborhood aesthetics, and the semi-rustic, human-scale ambiance of the village. An updated, more transparent design review process that takes full advantage of today’s technology would help preserve these unique characteristics, and our property values.

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, my husband, Richard Jamison, applied and was selected to serve on the committee in question.



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