Proposed Del Mar housing plan changes spur environmental analysis


California’s requirement that cities and counties guarantee equal housing opportunities for all income levels reliably elicits angst among constituents of jurisdictions trying to comply with the mandate.

Such is the case in Del Mar, where some civic leaders and residents went before the City Council on Monday, Dec. 17, to express concerns about potential land-use plan alterations designed to meet the state’s demands.

“I ... with all due respect, call for a public vote on changes of this magnitude,” resident Arnold Wiesel said.

Sanctioning zoning amendments, however, was not on the council’s agenda.

Rather, the city’s staff asked the five-member panel whether to authorize $150,000 for conducting an environmental study.

The study will analyze proposals to allow residential development, including lower-income housing, in the downtown business district and a commercial zone between downtown and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Also, the staff asked the council if it wanted to include four public sites — the Civic Center, post office, library and Del Mar Shores Park — in the analysis. That could be done without additional cost to determine if they are viable for future housing.

Despite opposition from eight of nine residents speaking on the issue, the council voted 5-0 to endorse the analysis of the two commercial districts.

Council members also voted 3-2 to extend the review to the post office, library and Civic Center properties, while excluding the park.

Mayor David Druker and newly elected City Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland cast the dissenting votes in the latter action, stating they did not want to subject other public facilities to the analysis.

Completion and approval of the environmental study will set the stage for the city to enact amendments endorsed earlier this decade. The amendments would allow residential development of up to 20 units per acre, including those affordable to lower income households, in the city’s two commercial zones.

City officials say the amendments are needed to comply with the state housing mandates and avoid penalties for noncompliance.

“This is where we’re between a rock and hard place, because the state imposes these obligations on us and ‘none of the above’ is not an option,” Councilman Dwight Worden said.

The opponents focused mostly on two aspects targeted for the environmental study — the park and the north commercial zone.

Representing Friends of Del Mar Parks, Laura DeMarco said the organization opposed the inclusion of the 5-acre Shores Park park in the analysis. She contended it contradicts the city’s long-term commitment to maintaining the property as a recreational site after purchasing it from the Del Mar Union School District years ago.

A section of the park is leased from the city by The Winston School, an independent sixth-through-12th-grade institution focusing on preparing students for college.

“It is unconscionable to me that you would even consider this,” DeMarco said of the council’s consideration of studying the site for housing possibilities.

Council members stressed the environmental work is intended to identify the constraints on residential development in the two zones and public properties.

The city’s housing plan already calls for the allowance of residential development downtown and the north commercial zone. Still, such changes require going through the environmental analysis, Planning Commission review, council endorsement and California Coastal Commission approval to be instituted.

The process, which is scheduled to begin in January, could take eight months or more, Planning and Community Development Director Kathleen Garcia said.