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COMMENTARY: Unhappy Surprises!
Tim Haviland | Rimini Road

Cartoon John Dempsey
Click on image to enlarge.

Day 1 – Oh, there is going to be a project next door.
Day 30 – Man! Those story poles show a 2nd story that can see right into my backyard/bedroom.
Day 31 – No need to worry, the Design Review Board (DRB) would never approve this project.
Day 365 - Wow! This is bigger than I ever imagined. How can this happen in Del Mar?

You have realized too late that you are suffering from post-construction surprise. Neighbors are surprised that the DRB, which they see as their advocate, would approve such a large project. Here are some other common surprises.

  1. DRB members are surprised to hear that despite a proposal for a very large project, there have been no written objections by the neighbors and that the required Citizen Participation Program (CPP) Minutes show no objections to the plans.
  2. When neighbors do get involved, DRB members are surprised at how many meetings it takes to reach a decision as applicants often submit plans with small, incremental changes from one meeting to the next.
  3. Neighbors attending DRB meetings, are surprised to see, for the first time, more detailed plans which often include:
    • • Additional hardscape
      • Changes in elevation or elevations that seem larger than the story poles indicated.
      • Setbacks out of sync with the rest of the street: excessive lighting, inadequate landscaping
  4. City Council members are surprised to find, upon appeal, that the DRB has approved a project that the neighbors do not like and seems not to meet DRO criteria.
  5. Applicants are surprised at the level of hostility from their neighbors when they finally move in. A process that could have easily led to long-term neighborly relations, instead takes the unfortunate turn of an adversarial relationship with lasting animosity.

We can fix this!

  1. We need the DRB to be an advocate for the affected neighbors as well as respecting applicants.
  2. We need to strengthen the CPP program so that the dialogue between neighbors and the applicant is more productive.
  3. We need greater neighborhood involvement. When you receive written notice of a project in your area, contact city staff to get information on the process, or even a DRB member – they are your representatives. Read the DRO to become familiar with your right to protection from inappropriate development and attend the required CPP neighborhood meeting and voice your concerns.
  4. We need concerned citizens to come together as advocates-at-large for the community. It can be intimidating to tell your future neighbor that their house does not comply with neighborhood character.
  5. The developer’s presentation to the DRB should be available to the neighbors in advance. Neighbor review and input in advance of design review board meetings could eliminate multiple meetings and speed up the process.

The DRB process is crucial for maintaining our city’s unique character. We need to work together to fix this process and eliminate any further unhappy surprises.


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