Del Mar council opts against beach development ordinance

A beach in Del Mar.
(Sebastian Montes)

The city of Del Mar has scrapped a proposed ordinance that would have modified the way the allowable size of beachfront homes is calculated, after hearing from property owners opposed to the change.

The City Council unanimously decided to drop its effort at a meeting on Monday, June 18, at which property owners and their attorneys said the plan was unnecessary and potentially illegal.

However, the issue still could wind up before city voters on the November ballot.

At issue is the way "floor area ratio" is calculated for beachfront homes, which determines the size of a home that can be built on a particular lot. The proposed ordinance would have excluded what is called the shoreline protection area, or SPA, a strip of land earmarked for public beach access that runs along the coast in Del Mar, from the calculation of lot size.

By excluding the so-called SPA area from the calculation, the size of the home allowed would be smaller. A city staff report said the proposed ordinance would have affected 27 private properties along the Del Mar beachfront.

In April, beachfront resident Richard Thompson notified the city that he would be gathering signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot, which would have changed city law to exclude the SPA area when calculating the maximum allowable home size. Thompson said at the time he wanted to prevent the "mansionization" of Del Mar's shoreline.

Rather than incur the cost of an election, the City Council decided June 4 to draft an ordinance that would accomplish the same thing as the initiative.

But in the intervening two weeks, beachfront property owners learned of the proposed ordinance and vigorous opposition arose.

Nearly all of the speakers at Monday's council meeting opposed the ordinance and asked the council to either drop the plan or postpone a decision to allow for more analysis and discussion.

"There is no urgency here. There are many unintended consequences," said attorney Matthew Peterson, who represents property owner Sandra Naftzger.

Of the proposed ordinance, Peterson said, "This is called ballot box zoning. It's not necessary."

A number of speakers accused Thompson of pursuing the initiative to stop his neighbor, Naftzger, from building a beachfront home next to his. At the meeting, Naftzger detailed how she had modified her building plans in an effort to overcome objections by Thompson and his wife.

But Thompson denied that was his motivation, and city officials said that even if the initiative passes, it would not affect Naftzger's project since plans have already been submitted to the city.

Thompson said he decided to act after learning of a Planning Commission decision, in November, which allowed the SPA area to be included in the lot size, thus increasing the size of home allowed.

"I think of this as righting a wrong," he said, "an opportunity to do the right thing."

He said the allegations leveled by speakers concerning his motives were "a little hurtful."

Council members said that through letters, email and testimony at Monday's council meeting, they learned the issue was more complicated than they originally believed.

For one thing, council members said, if the city does move forward on the issue, it should first send the matter for a hearing before the Planning Commission, rather than taking the matter straight to the council.

Mayor Dwight Worden said Thompson still has the right to gather and submit signatures in an effort to place the matter on the ballot. If not, Worden said, the city can move at a more deliberative pace.

"What I've learned from you all is let's take our time and do this on a reasonable schedule," Worden said.

Thompson did not indicate at the meeting whether he intends to pursue the ballot measure following the council's decision not to pass an ordinance on the beach development issue.

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