New zoning plan enters next stage
City to focus now on informing the public about form-based codes
After hearing the long-awaited first major public presentation from its ad hoc form-based code committee on Monday night, the Del Mar City Council will move forward with an information campaign to educate residents on the newest proposal for downtown revitalization.
Form-based codes aim to create walkable, urban environments by altering zoning standards and floor-area ratio requirements to allow more flexibility in how buildings are designed in relationship to their lot, the sidewalk and streets. The committee gave an example of a two-story, mixed-use building, with retail at street level and housing and offices on the second floor.
But if the reaction from those in attendance on Monday is any indication, the governing body and its committee have lots of convincing to do.
Despite the preliminary pretense of Monday’s meeting, the council was met with a barrage of negativity from practically all of the roughly 20 speakers who stepped to the podium.
The vast majority said they were certainly in favor of revitalizing the city’s main stretch, but said form-based code was not the way to do it.
Many of the speakers said they feared that proposed rules would allow the city to “streamline” commercial projects by bypassing the traditional Design Review Board, which has been a major authority on development since the 1970s.
“The Design Review Board has ensured good design and has mitigated potential negative impacts that a project might have had. To eliminate them from the review process would be a disservice to the entire community,” DRB member Brooke Eisenberg-Pike said.
But interim Planning Director Brian Mooney said the committee did not plan to eliminate the role of the DRB, just alter it. He said a project’s approval under the current form-based code proposal would be at the discretion of a planning director, which is more likely to attract potential investors. Mooney did say, however, that the design board would still be involved on projects that are higher than 16 feet or if there is a potential view blockage.
The city is currently interviewing candidates for a permanent planning director. Mooney’s interim contract terminates at the end of this month.
Council members said it was not the intention to eliminate the DRB, but instead find the appropriate role for it if voters ultimately approve a form-based code.
Mayor Richard Earnest urged people to reserve judgment until further details are worked out.
“This is not conclusion-drawing stage; this is idea stage, input stage, conversation stage and hopefully we can do this with an assumption of goodwill in the community that says, ‘We all really want to improve the downtown,’ ” he said.
Speaking as an individual and not in her role as executive director of the Del Mar Village Association, Jen Grove said the council must listen to a wide variety of input, not just of some who favor maintaining Del Mar’s design review tradition.
“This is a democracy in which all the voices need to be heard,” she said, adding that many of the younger families have voiced support to her. “It’s not just one segment of the community’s downtown — it’s all of our downtown.”
Form-based code is looked at as one way to help Del Mar regain sales-tax revenue, down 22 percent since fiscal year 2005-06. Councilman Carl Hilliard said the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) predicts that sales-tax revenues will not reach 2007 pre-recession levels until at least 2015. It is projected to be roughly $950,000 this fiscal year. In 2007, sales-tax revenue was more than $1.2 million, according to the city’s third-quarter financial report, released last month.
“You have to recognize that our sales tax was dwindling prior to that time,” Hilliard said, specifying a reduction in retail sales as being a large cause.
Among other goals, form-based code would calm traffic on Camino del Mar; widen sidewalks; and rezone the area as more conducive to constructing boutique hotels, restaurants and retail shops.
Earnest said there have been many “false starts” over the last 14 years in terms of planning for downtown revitalization, and that he is encouraged by the progress the form-based code committee has made.
Mooney will present a schedule, cost analysis and environmental review information at the June 21 meeting.
While the council does not legally have to put form-based code to a vote, there seemed to be agreement that it would. Mooney said the earliest realistic ballot would be November 2011.
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