Del Mar updates North Commercial zoning amid state pressure

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Amid pressure from state regulators, the Del Mar City Council approved a zoning change on the city’s North Commercial parcels that will allow up to 20 residential units per acre.

Mayor Ellie Haviland and council members Dwight Worden and Sherryl Parks voted in favor of the zoning change during the City Council’s Oct. 5 online meeting. Deputy Mayor Terry Gaasterland and Councilman Dave Druker voted no.

Last month, the council was unable to adopt a Community Plan amendment that would have updated the land-use designation in tandem with that zoning change. With Gaasterland and Druker in opposition, it failed 3-2, one short of the four votes that Community Plan amendments require. A simple majority would have been enough to approve the zoning amendment itself, but the council did not take a vote.

This time, council members voted on the zoning amendment without approving the corresponding amendment to the Community Plan. Del Mar Principal Planner Amanda Lee said the zoning amendment will help bring the city’s housing element into compliance with state law.

Failure to adopt the zoning change last month left the city’s housing element out of compliance. As part of the state’s fifth Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) cycle from 2013 to 2021, the city committed to rezoning the North Commercial land, located on 16 acres off Jimmy Durante Boulevard. City staff estimates that the rezone will lead to approximately 20 affordable housing units of the 113 that the city has to accommodate in its housing element for the sixth RHNA cycle from 2021 to 2029.

In a Sept. 30 letter, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) wrote to the city manager that Del Mar has until Oct. 30 to provide “an adequate written response” before the state considers legal action or other consequences that could compromise Del Mar’s local control over new development.

During the Oct. 5 council meeting, Worden said he wanted to take the vote on the zoning amendment, even without approval for the Community Plan amendment, to be clear that “the majority of this council wants to institutionalize 20 units per acre.”

“If you two want to block it,” he said to Gaasterland and Druker, “which is your right to deny the Community Plan amendment, then that puts the lens exactly on where the problem is: the minority of the council blocking the will of the majority.”

After the zoning amendment passed on Monday, its approval is still pending a second reading at the next council meeting. Since it would also require an amendment to the city’s Local Coastal Program, the city needs approval from the state Coastal Commission.

According to city staff, the Community Plan is not part of the city’s Local Coastal Program, so the city can pursue Coastal Commission certification without council approval on the Community Plan amendment.

The council tried again to pass the corresponding Community Plan amendment, but it failed by the same 3-2 vote. Gaasterland and Druker expressed concerns about overdevelopment, traffic and environmental hazards.

Gaasterland said “we cannot agree to this today because it is too important for the future of our community.”

“The rezone issue must be put off until the next council is seated,” she said.

Nine public speakers were divided between implementing the rezone and taking more time to consider alternative options.

Del Mar resident Rose Ann Sharp mentioned a survey completed by the city that showed residents wanted residential development in the North Commercial zone.

“They voted to have the North Commercial zone rezoned as the overwhelming first choice, and they knew the density allowed,” she said.

Del Mar resident Kevin Popovic called into question the methodology that was used by the San Diego Association of Governments, which assigned RHNA allocations based on proximity to jobs and transit. SANDAG staff explained its methodology to council members earlier this year, but a faction of Del Mar residents have continued to call the legitimacy of the numbers into question.

“The job numbers calculated seem to be vastly exaggerated,” he said. “With so many temporary jobs at the fairgrounds, which is no longer a viable employer, (the city’s jobs total) should be recalculated.”

The City Council will decide how to respond to HCD at its next meeting on Oct. 19.