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Del Mar council keeps advisory committee on design review process intact

Despite a divided community, the Del Mar City Council stood by its appointments to a new committee that will address whether changes need to be made to the city’s design review process.

“I’m happy with the committee,” said Councilman Dwight Worden. “I think they’re off to a good start. I think they’re doing a great job so far.”

The council established the ad-hoc development review process citizens’ advisory committee in an effort to improve Del Mar’s design review process — a process intended to preserve and protect the community character. Although the council created the committee in response to the community’s concerns about the city’s design review process, the way the committee was appointed also sparked concerns over the summer.

Community members initially expressed their dissatisfaction with the city’s development and design review process in a citizen satisfaction survey conducted Nov. 20 through Jan. 12. Although most of the 450 residents who responded to the questionnaire said they were satisfied with the city, three areas registered the most complaints: roadway maintenance, communication, and the development and design review process.

Acknowledging the concerns, the council in May further opened the review process to the public and established the committee. The council made its appointments in June.

“I’m really unhappy to see the city so polarized over this issue when the goal of the council was to fix perceived problems with the design review process,” said Councilman Don Mosier. “That goal seems to be shared by everyone. … The only difference I’m hearing is that some people think that the solutions might be subtly different than other people, but the perceived problems are shared by everyone.”

The committee’s job is to identify concerns related to the community impacts of new and remodeled homes. Members must also define the goal to be achieved in potentially modifying regulations and recommend solutions, including possible amendments to the municipal code and development review procedures.

“This committee is advisory to the council,” Mosier reminded the community. “If it comes up with suggestions that we don’t like, they die when they come to council. There has to be a final work product that reflects the consensus among the committee but is also supported by the council.”

The city received 28 applications for the nine-member committee.

When the council on May 18 approved a resolution to establish the committee, the resolution did not call for interviews. Interviews were also not mentioned during the motion, which passed 3-0 with Mayor Al Corti and Mosier absent. However, the minutes from the meeting state that the council “directed staff to advertise for candidates for the committee and to schedule interviews for committee appointments.”

Furthermore, Andrew Potter, the city’s administrative services director, sent a message to committee applicants, recommending that they attend the June 15 meeting and be prepared to be interviewed, said Worden in a prior interview. He and Mosier serve as liaisons to the committee.

“The process of appointing this committee was not perfect,” said Mosier, adding that he attempted to contact all the applicants who were available to speak before the appointments. “It had some procedural ambiguities that I apologize for.”

Because of the email and the meeting minutes, most applicants attended the meeting expecting to be interviewed for the committee. But the council only asked to briefly hear the backgrounds of the three applicants who were professional architects or land use planners.

After the appointments, more than a dozen community members concerned about the selection process asked the council to rescind its appointments during the July 6 council meeting. The council stood by its decisions.

On July 14, disappointed residents submitted a letter with 110 signatures to the city, requesting the council to rescind its appointments and redo the selection process. The signatures were gathered within 36 hours, and an additional 19 signatures in support of the letter were submitted two days later.

Acknowledging the mix-up between the minutes and the motion, the council on July 20 decided to place the issue on the agenda of its next meeting, after the August recess, to consider whether to make any changes to the committee’s makeup or membership.

During the Sept. 8 meeting Worden apologized again, but noted that the city has an adoptive policy that does not call for interviews of applicants for committees except for the Design Review Board and Planning Commission.

“We gave mixed signals from staff and from the council,” Worden said.

Nearly 40 people submitted speaker slips on the subject during the Sept. 8 meeting, which Mayor Al Corti said was a record number, at least since he’s been mayor. Of those, 25 community members spoke before the council.

Some called for changes to the committee — redoing the selection process, expanding membership or hiring an outside consultant. Others asked the council to continue the committee and not make any changes.

“It’s really great to see so many people engaged,” Worden said. “It’s reflective of what we are as a community. We’re divided on a lot of the substantive issues about the DRB and the DRO — and that’s OK. That’s OK. We should be able to speak civilly to each other, even though we don’t agree on a lot of these issues.”

In a 3-1 decision, the council voted to keep the committee intact. Councilman Terry Sinnott was absent.

“I would like to support continuing the committee as appointed and give it a chance to establish a record,” said Mosier, adding that the committee will present quarterly reports to the council.

The committee is slated to present its work plan to the council in the coming weeks. The council will also hear a progress report in January.

Casting the dissenting vote, Corti disagreed with the council’s direction.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he said. “We are talking about modifying the Design Review Ordinance. As far as I’m concerned, it’s modifying the Community Plan. It’s that deep. It’s the Bible that drives this community. Making modifications to it — I don’t think we can take lightly. We’re going down a course of action, I think, (that) is very dangerous.”

Corti suggested adding four people “from the other perspective” to the committee. He also suggested bringing on an objective facilitator for the committee.

“Real or perceived, it’s a problem, and I just cannot support proceeding on the course of action we’re currently going,” he said.

Although his colleagues disagreed, they all agreed that they were open to the idea of a consultant, if the budget allows.

“The work program that’s envisioned looks like it’s going to require a lot of staff time,” Mosier said. “There is an argument that if it requires too much staff time … that there may be merit to hiring a consultant. But I wouldn’t proceed with that course of action without looking at the budget and getting a clearer understanding of what the workload would be.”

To date, there have been five committee meetings.

The committee met for the first time at 4 p.m. July 8. After hearing from concerned citizens on July 6, the council suggested the committee change its format and time to be more accessible to the public. The second meeting on July 21 started at 6 p.m. and featured a workshop-style format.

Meetings since then have started at 6 p.m. at the City Hall Annex.

At the latest meeting on Sept. 1, the committee approved a work plan that outlined the committee’s mission, goals, timeline, approach and work program.

The committee also established five subcommittees that will research and report back on the DRO, Citizens’ Participation Program, related development ordinances, zoning ordinances and design review board practices in other jurisdictions. In addition, the committee discussed scheduling future meetings with the Design Review Board, city staff, architects and builders, and the public.

“I appreciate all the public comment that’s been presented at the committee meetings,” Mosier said. “I would encourage everyone to stay involved and make sure this committee stays on track. I think the more public involvement we have, the less anyone needs to fear that this committee is going to have a private agenda or get off track.

“I would personally assure everyone that I’m there as a liaison to make sure that this committee does stay on track and does represent the interests of all our citizens, not a few of our citizens,” Mosier added. “No one’s getting ignored in this process. If they stay engaged and make helpful, constructive comments or criticisms, then we listen to them.”

The committee meets at 6 p.m. every first and third Tuesday in the City Hall Annex. The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 15.

Meeting agendas and minutes are available at www.delmar.ca.us/507/Ad-Hoc-Development-Review-Process-Adviso.


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