Coastal Commission approves Del Mar zoning change

Del Mar City Hall
(Jon Clark)

The city of Del Mar received California Coastal Commission approval on Feb. 10 for a zoning change that will accommodate more affordable housing and help the city comply with state housing regulations.

The approval included several modifications that were suggested by the commission.

The City Council implemented the zoning change, which applies to parcels zoned North Commercial and Professional Commercial at the northern end of town, as part of the state’s sixth cycle housing element. Under that process, every region throughout the state is assigned a number of new housing units that they are responsible for zoning for over the next eight years.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the county’s regional planning agency, assigned 163 units to Del Mar. With 12 units that carried over from the last cycle because the city did not meet its assigned allocation, the city’s total is 175.

Upzoning the North Commercial and Professional Commercial parcels to allow 20 units per acre was controversial for many residents who said they had concerns such as adverse environmental effects. A grassroots group called the Del Mar Community Hillside Association collected enough signatures to create a referendum that could have stopped that zoning change from taking effect. But after a period of negotiation, the petitioners withdrew the referendum in exchange for a set of terms that included the city further studying the issues they raised.

“We considered our entire city and unfortunately if we don’t rely on the North Commercial zone, it means these sites go up to the north bluff property, which is probably the most sensitive and most scenically beautiful,” Amanda Lee, the city of Del Mar’s principal planner, told members of the Coastal Commission last week.

She added that development on the bluffs is “not the preferable option, even though that’s the much bigger space.”

“It’s something that would be a contingency plan if the housing isn’t developed for the sixth cycle, that would be the fallback for the city moving ahead,” she said.

Commissioners also raised concerns about new housing units being used for short-term rental sites such as Airbnb. Under the new North Commercial and Professional Commercial zoning in Del Mar, affordable units include deed restrictions that prevent short-term rental usage.

“The state is going to need to grapple with the housing element achieving what they want it to in terms of creation of residential housing versus housing that gets created and then is used as vacation or short-term rentals,” Commissioner Katie Rice said.