Acknowledging not every building in downtown Del Mar is currently conducive to containing retail, the Del Mar City Council has granted three property owners a temporary reprieve from the city's urgency zoning ordinance. The first was made at the council's June 2 meeting; two more approvals were made at the council's June 16 meeting.
The zoning ordinance, first put in place on a temporary basis by the City Council in April of last year and later renewed, is set to expire early next year. The ordinance seeks to preserve retail in Del Mar's downtown commercial core by preventing non-retail establishments from setting up shop in ground-floor spaces fronting the city's main street Camino del Mar and along 15th Street. The ordinance is considered an integral part of an overall revitalization plan for the downtown area that is expected to involve several building code changes and eventually a wide-ranging downtown specific plan. But due to requirements that the urgency ordinance cannot be renewed for a third time, it is expected the ordinance will be made permanent, possibly by the end of this year.
Throughout the past year some business owners raised concerns over a perceived cookie-cutter approach to horizontal zoning, complaining that their particular building spaces were not conducive to successful retail use due to physical configurations of their buildings. On May 19, the council approved an amendment to the urgency ordinance allowing owners to apply for relief.
The first of those applications was granted (after several appearances before the council of the property owners' attorney) for a building at 221 15th Street. The building is elevated three feet above 15th Street frontage and setback more than 15 feet from the sidewalk. Also 10 years ago the building was also extensively renovated for exclusive use as an office.
The latest two additions to the list include an office building at 915 Camino del Mar, next to the site of the city's old gas station. The building is a classic office-only structure complete with suites, darkened windows, secured doors and a lobby.
The other space granted relief at 910 Camino del Mar was slightly more problematic for council members as retail had previously existed in the building and does so currently in one adjoining suite. The suite in question contained a small market several years ago and several years before that, a bicycle shop. But the council was sympathetic to access issues with the area having no connecting sidewalk from the central area of town. The building's owner said that access issue was making it more difficult to find lessees for the space.
"The topography and design are not so unique," said Principal Planner Adam Birnbaum. "What is unique in this case is the lack of a sidewalk."
But changes are in store for that southern section of town, should the Garden Del Mar project at the old gas station site receive public approval on the November ballot. Birnbaum said after approval, that project should take about three years to complete. In the interest of fairness considering the length of time for completion of the Garden Del Mar, the council granted the space at 910 Camino del Mar a four-year relief from horizontal zoning. The property directly across the street at 915 Camino del Mar was granted a five-year pass, as was, previously, the 15th Street building.
One public speaker, commercial property Van Hilderman, said he would like to see future parameters for the downtown area's conversion to ground floor retail put in place.
"There should be a specific period of time to convert to a higher amount of retail space," he said. "Maybe it's 60 percent to begin with, ending up with 80 percent. But something that is quantifiable.
"We've seen other situations where things go on indefinitely," Hilderman added, "and things can deteriorate into an all office space environment. We really like the idea of retail…just so we know the rules going forward."
Mayor Dave Druker said Hilderman's suggestion should be considered.
"We have not formalized the horizontal zoning rules and will be doing that in the next three to four months," he said. "Maybe that could be part of the ordinance."
At their meeting, the council also approved a set fee for future relief applications of $500 per application. As with the previous three, each application will be considered on a case-to-case basis.