Del Mar considers rezoning North Commercial area

Editor’s note: In its quest to integrate affordable housing into the community, as mandated by state law and outlined in the city’s Community Plan goals, the City of Del Mar has several options on the table: rezoning in the north commercial zone, condo conversion, offering more square footage as an incentive to build affordable “granny flats,” and possible modification to development standards in the downtown area. The following is the first in a series examining in more detail what these option would look like in Del Mar.

By Claire Harlin

Entering the city via Jimmy Durante Boulevard, one passes the Del Mar Fairgrounds and a number of offices and businesses to the right, such as a gym, animal hospital and the Free Flight bird sanctuary. On the left, one catches a glimpse of the San Dieguito Lagoon, but likely more noticeable is the 2-acre dirt lot at the corner of San Dieguito Drive that’s lined with rocks, rusted barrels, chairs and other debris. The parcel is used occasionally for overflow fairgrounds parking, however, it usually sits empty.

A new use for this corner property could materialize, however, in the form of an apartment building that could, in part, fulfill the state’s requirement to build 71 new housing units throughout the city — 22 of which must accommodate those in the lowest income bracket. Formerly owned by nearby residents and business owners Michael and Janice Batter of Batter-Kay Architects, the property is in escrow and officials are working with a potential buyer to analyze the feasibility of building housing there. And to legally make that happen, the city would have to amend the North Commercial (NC) zone to allow residential use, possibly at a density of 20 units per acre — a feasibility standard suggested by the state.

Proceedings are only preliminary and weigh heavily on the feedback of the community, said Del Mar Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum.

Longtime resident Bud Emerson, who has been working to bring affordable housing to Del Mar for decades, said a residential development on the parcel in question could serve as a “gateway project,” the first thing people see when they enter the city on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

High property values have presented a challenge to the city in finding somewhere to build units that could be offered at an affordable rate, so it would be “amazing,” Emerson said, if the city could work out a plan with the developer in which it would have ownership of some six or seven of those units, perhaps, to be designated at affordable. The rest of the necessary 71 units could be “sprinkled throughout” the city as to not change Del Mar’s character, Emerson said.

“We’ve been trying to figure out for years how to do this, and right now we’re just trying to shape the vision of what this project could be,” said Emerson, who serves on the city’s Housing Corporation, a nonprofit created in the 1970s to make the city eligible for block grants, as well as the Housing Element Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee, which is working with the City Council to develop a plan that will identify and address housing needs for the next seven years. It’s within the Housing Element that the city must show the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that it has a solution, or else be subject to lawsuit or penalties.

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