Anne Farrell, Ad Hoc Committee Member
On June 18 Ad Hoc Committee Chair Harold Feder presented City Council with the Committee’s final report after three years of work looking into concerns raised by residents about the Design Review process. He acknowledged Committee members Pat Bone, Nancy Banning Doyle, Anne Farrell (Secretary), Laurie Fisher, John Giebink, John Graybill, Richard Jamison (Vice-Chair), and Art Olson as well as the help of Council Liaisons Dwight Worden and Ellie Haviland, former Council Liaison Don Mosier, and the City’s Principal Planner, Matt Bator.
The Committee was created by the Council in 2015 and tasked to: identify concerns related to community impacts of new and remodeled homes; identify the goals to be achieved in modifying regulations/procedures; and recommend solutions to remedy the situation, including possible amendments to the municipal code and/or DRB procedures. The development of illustrated Design Guidelines, Del Mar’s first such document, is one of the Committee’s most significant completed tasks. The Design Guidelines are now being used for all active residential developments in the City. The illustration below is one of many from the Guidelines, which are posted on the City website City Website
The Committee’s final report reflects three years of research and analysis, public hearings, and substantial community outreach by the Committee. Significant problems with the design review process were identified, studied, and vetted in the community. Subsequently, the Committee developed recommendations to help rectify these problems, to improve the design review process through increased transparency, fairness, education, and objectivity. Some of the achievements include:
- Establishing a Web presence for Ad Hoc agendas and all key documents, including extensive minutes of public meetings and public input/letters.
- Compiling a detailed Master List of all issues raised by the public and Committee members; and distilling it into a working list of high-priority topics.
- Reviewing design review documents, processes, and design guidelines of 26 other peer California cities with demographics and economic circumstances similar to Del Mar’s.
- Preparing/recommending revisions to the Community Participation Process (“CPP”), adopted by Council and now being used.
- Writing and producing two documents to clarify design review for residents and applicants: the Resident Handbook: Understanding the Design Review Process and the Good Neighbor Guide to the Design Review Process in Del Mar, which can now be accessed on the City’s website.
- Preparing a comprehensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for the Design Guidelines, which are available on the website City Website
The last six months of work involved four subcommittees collecting/analyzing data and feedback from eight peer cities, identifying best practices that could further reduce subjectivity in Del Mar’s design review process and clarifying areas that have presented challenges to various stakeholders. Subcommittee members focused on how peer cities recruit, train, and inform design review board members; regulate residential basements; identify unacceptable residential bulk and massing; and address the potential conflict between the policy of abating nonconformities and the goal of preserving community character. The findings (which can also be found on the website, along with supporting documentation) were presented at the June 18th Council meeting, and were unanimously accepted by the Council.
Each Council member praised the Ad Hoc Committee for its extraordinary amount of quality work, suggesting the community saved tens of thousands of dollars in consultant fees. Mr. Feder noted that at the start, there was considerable community concern and voiced opposition, but that the Committee conducted itself with transparency, openness to all ideas, a commitment to the Community Plan, and a shared goal of improving the DRB process. Everyone had his or her say, and the process was better because of that. By the end of the Ad Hoc Committee’s existence, there was positive response and little opposition.