Questions loom over Del Mar housing element with deadline approaching

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

Del Mar City Council members all agreed Jan. 19 that they want to meet an April deadline to secure state approval for its new housing element, rather than pursue a longer deadline that could lead to state-imposed penalties. But how they will accomplish that remains unclear.

Two new council members who were elected in November have shifted the council majority in favor of pursuing density-averse alternative options to complete the new housing element, which needs to show the city’s plan for accommodating 175 new housing units.

City Councilman Dwight Worden is the only remaining council member who supported the draft housing element as it was submitted to the state’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) by the former council. He has repeatedly urged his council colleagues to offer more specifics if they want to make changes.

“If there is some other strategy that’s better and worth pursuing, the obligation is on you guys to bring it forward, and I haven’t seen it,” he said during the meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

One of the key sticking points involves a zoning change to the city’s North Commercial parcels, located off Jimmy Durante Boulevard, which might be repealed anyway by a resident-led referendum.

The previous version of the council approved the ordinance to install the new zoning, but fell one vote short of the four-fifths needed to pass a corresponding Community Plan amendment. City planners said the North Commercial change helped the city meet state requirements for having “adequate sites” that can hold at least 20 residential units per acre.

Del Mar Principal Planner Amanda Lee said during a presentation to the council that there are “limited feasible options” throughout the city to meet density requirements.

The city also received feedback from HCD on its draft housing element. The status of the North Commercial zoning change, which will likely be decided by Del Mar residents on a to-be-determined election date, was one of the unresolved issues that HCD wanted more clarity on.

City staff wrote in a report to the council that failing to implement the North Commercial change could lead to state-imposed penalties.

Newly elected City Councilwoman Tracy Martinez, who campaigned against rezones that add more density and supported the petition for the referendum, was appointed to the council’s Housing Subcommittee with Mayor Terry Gaasterland. Martinez said the two can look to solidify a plan in the coming months.

“We’ve had very little time to digest this,” she said.