Art Olson | Avenida Primavera
The nine-member Del Mar Ad Hoc Development Review Process Citizens’ Advisory Committee has been working for over a year now with the goal of improving the residential development process in Del Mar. The full Committee has held 25 public meetings, and received input from the general public and a variety of stakeholders including applicants, architects, and affected parties as well as DRB and Planning Commission members. Subcommittees have met numerous times to research and address specific issues. The work has reached the stage where the City Council and staff must analyze the Committee’s recommendations and decide how to move forward in terms of city support, resources, and changes to the development review process.
The Committee has finished the first two phases of their work. On June 6, 2016, they presented to the City Council two recommended tools to help the public as well as applicants better understand the DRB process—the “Good Neighbor Guide” and the “Neighbor Handbook: Understanding the Design Review Process in the City of Del Mar.” Both were approved and are now being used. In addition, the Committee presented their recommendations regarding changes to the Citizens Participation Program (CPP), which precedes the Design Review Board hearing for all major projects that come before it. The proposed revisions entail a two-step process designed to be more fair and transparent in order to facilitate understanding among all parties. A pre-CPP meeting would inform the neighbors about the applicant’s vision for the proposed development, and the applicant would hear neighborhood concerns about potential development at the project site. The meeting would be a conceptual discussion, with no plans or drawings. At the subsequent CPP meeting, which includes increased review time for neighbors, the developer would present their preliminary plans with the requirement that the neighbors and applicant be able to assess the project from their different perspectives, utilizing 3D viewing, story poles, and streetscape visualization. A city staff facilitator would be present as a neutral party, to educate and inform those present on the Design Review process. On September 6, the Council accepted the recommendations and charged city staff to draft a revised CPP ordinance that had its first reading on October 17, and was approved by Council.
At the October 3rd City Council meeting, the Committee presented their analysis and recommendations for addressing four major problem areas that they have identified in the development review process: View impacts, land conservation issues, privacy impacts, and bulk and mass impacts. The committee has done extensive research on 22 comparable California cities with incomes and property values higher than those of Del Mar. The Committee found that there is general agreement among the public and stakeholders that Del Mar’s design review process needs more clarity and objectivity in order to attain the goals of the Community Plan. They recommended three major priorities to achieve these goals: development of Design Guidelines to add clarity to the Design Review ordinances, database development to track public documents and actions on residential development to aid consistency and objectivity, and proposed code changes to ensure consistency with design guidelines, and create zone-specific design standards needed to address Del Mar’s unique geographic challenges. The detailed report from the Committee can be found on the City website. It includes the Committee’s analyses of the four problem areas and the recommended actions and work tasks needed to address them. The City Council unanimously approved the Committee report and has charged city staff to develop a work program to move them forward toward implementation.
The Ad Hoc Committee members will continue to address issues that have been identified. They will work with city staff and consultants to help implement the recommended actions and will study other aspects of the development review process, all designed to ensure that the DRB process is more transparent, objective, and comprehensible for both neighbors and applicants.