By Claire Harlin
More than 20 years ago, Del Mar implemented a law that is now attributed to holding back the downtown area and stifling development ever since. In an effort to decrease scale, former officials capped the floor-area ratio (FAR) at 0.45, and with 40 percent of downtown businesses pre-dating that law and having FARs of more than 0.45, the strict building code has discouraged existing businesses from doing construction of any kind in the Village.
“At the time it was seen as the best way to control development in downtown, but in actuality it kind of set us into noncompetitive retail,” said Kathy Garcia, Del Mar’s planning and community development director. “What happened was stores couldn’t locate here because there wasn’t enough space for them and property owners didn’t want to redevelop to get a better space because they’d lose square footage.”
This issue is one of many challenges the city is up against in planning downtown revitalization and drafting a Village Specific Plan. On Feb. 20 the Del Mar City Council held a workshop on private realm development — which includes FAR and other issues, such as setback and height. The next of several workshops meant to engage and educate the public about revitalization will focus on parking and be held on March 5.
Garcia said the City Council is leaning toward raising the FAR to 1.0. This would mean that on a 10,000-square-foot lot, the floor area could not exceed 10,000 square feet if one story high. In comparison, a FAR of 0.45 would allow a one-story building of 4,500 square feet or two stories at 2,250 square feet.
“That would not only keep up with the cost of land but these little 0.45 buildings are not really in character with what we are looking at,” she said.
Buildings with a FAR of 0.45 or less include Crepes and Corks, located at 1328 Camino Del Mar, and Board-N-Brew, located at 1212 Camino Del Mar. On the larger side, the Stratford Court building located at 15th and Camino Del Mar has a FAR of 1.52. The Gallery Building, located at 1130 Camino Del Mar and including Bindu Yoga and Bella Villa Spa, has a FAR of 1.0.
Opinions on FAR have been somewhat polarized, and the City Council is looking for more input.
“There are a number of people saying ‘We don’t need it because if you control height and how far back it goes, why would you need an extra control?’” said Garcia. “Some are saying don’t change it at all and others say that 1.0 is in keeping with scale as we see appropriate.”
Land use is another major aspect of private realm development being discussed in Del Mar. The City is looking into upping residential use significantly downtown and including some 20 units per acre (now there are only two residential units along Camino Del Mar). Officials hope to see the percentages of office space decrease to make room for more parking, lodging, retail and restaurants.