The Del Mar City Council continues to take a close look at the future of the city, inching toward a comprehensive plan for revitalization - but taking cautious steps toward its implementation.
On Sept. 22, Interim Planning Director Brian Mooney presented an initial presentation on a specific plan process for the city. But bemoaning a lack of sufficient information on a form-based code aspect of the specific plan, Mooney was asked by council members to return in about a month with a more detailed report.
"I think we need one more council discussion," said Mayor Dave Druker. "But we do want to embark on this. It's absolutely essential."
Form-based codes in essence put physical design ahead of more restrictive and aging zoning codes, addressing the mass and scale of buildings on particular streets and blocks or in specific areas of a city.
Form-based codes are considered the Holy Grail of the New Urbanist movement that arose in the early 1980s. That movement supports walkable cities and neighborhoods that contain a range of mixed-uses, housing and even jobs. The charter of New Urbanism states: "…urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice."
Because they can regulate development at the scale of an individual building or lot, form-based codes encourage independent development by multiple property owners. They also encourage public participation, allowing citizens to see what will happen and where.
"The program is designed to fit the personality of Del Mar," said Mooney.
Similar programs have been used in some capacity in several California cities that have revitalized their downtowns, such as Pasadena, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Palm Desert and Ventura.
Next month Mooney will be asking the council to approve the formation of a specific plan advisory committee, which will oversee six distinct working groups covering such issues as transportation, design, economics and "green" construction. He also recommended an intensive five-day workshop program involving residents, business owners and other stakeholders.
"At the end of those five days, we should start to see the shape of (city) blocks," said Mooney. "But this has to be integrative, comprehensive and broad-based."
Mooney said the intensive nature of the workshops, along with use of "an unbelievable amount of intelligent people" in the city, could put completion of the process in the six to nine month range, with environmental reports finished in an additional nine months. He also said the cooperative or "in-house" nature of the process would help in keeping costs down.
The specific plan process, originally budgeted by the city to cost in the area of $250,000, has now been estimated to cost in the $400,000 range including environmental impact reports.
"We've authorized $250,000 for the fiscal year," said City Manager Karen Brust, "we need to find funds for the second year. We have some things to work through, but right now we are on track."
Deputy Mayor Crystal Crawford asked rhetorically whether the city had "the appetite" for such a large-scale project.
"And once we have it (specific plan), how does it facilitate revitalization?" she asked Mooney.
"It provides certainty," responded Mooney. "I think the community is ready for this and going to the community is the first step."
Mooney said he would like to expand the specific plan area of what would normally be considered Del Mar's downtown, to include the area south to Fourth Street and north to the beach area and the fairgrounds - addressing a city as a whole, not just a business district.
"Del Mar is positioned to be whatever it wants to be," he said.