Bud Emerson |Klish Way
For almost a decade the controversial Watermark housing proposal on Jimmy Durante Boulevard near the traffic circle has been evolving on our public agenda. After years of negotiations with neighbor opposition and resistance from two Council Members, we are now at the likely endpoint with 50 rental units, including 10 affordable, four stories counting a parking podium. (They decided against an option for even 15 more units.) And most importantly, the city is left with no design oversight and no public input. The application will be reviewed only by staff for conformance with applicable zoning requirements. The only appeal process open to the public is with the Coastal Commission.
How did this happen?
Initially, the developer was persuaded to engage in a “specific plan” process that promised many benefits to our town including outright ownership of 4-6 units by the city. This despite the fact that state law had enabled the site to be developed “by right” because the city had not fulfilled its 2012 legal obligations in the state certified Housing Element of our Community Plan. Over the next number of years the owners voluntarily participated in a great number of public workshops, informal DRB reviews, discussions with community members, and negotiations to satisfy neighbor concerns. By year 2020, the proposal had been reduced from 57 units to 38 units (7 affordable, 17 units per acre) and a number of “exceptional benefits” for the community.
The Specific Plan would have required a 4-1 Council vote. Just before the 2020 City Council election a vote was held to zone this area at a level of 20 units per acre to satisfy our state certified Housing Element. Two Council Members, Gaasterland and Druker, voted against that motion.
That vote triggered a decision by Watermark to withdraw from the Specific Plan process and exercise their right to file a “by right” application. Watermark attorney Marco Gonzales notified the city that “Given the many years of failing to appreciate the Housing Element rezone requirements, coupled with the unabashed disdain for residential development at required densities in the North Commercial zone by two members of City Council, it is clear that required 4 votes needed for a Community Plan amendment will not occur in the foreseeable future.” That is how this has become the 50-unit rental property which is not subject to Del Mar’s review processes.
Ironically, those two Council Members, after election season, voted just weeks ago to approve a 20 units per acre zone. But there appears no way to re-ignite the Specific Plan process.