Seaside Ridge applicants respond to Del Mar findings that the development application is incomplete

Renderings of Seaside Ridge
Renderings of Seaside Ridge, a proposed 259-unit apartment complex in Del Mar. It is on a nearly 7-acre site near Dog Beach.
(Frank Wolden)

The project would add 259 residential units, including one-third afforable, on a north bluff property where many local residents have opposed multi-unit housing


Applicants for Seaside Ridge, a proposed 259-unit apartment complex on Del Mar’s north bluff, have submitted a response to the city’s June 30 letter that deemed the project application “incomplete.”

The back and forth between the city and applicants has persisted since last October, when the preliminary development application was submitted. Del Mar has disputed the legal basis of the project, but the applicants argue that a state housing law known as the Builder’s Remedy should allow it to proceed as a by-right project that overrides local zoning regulations.

The property at issue, owned by Carol Lazier, was also the proposed site for the comparatively smaller Marisol hotel project, which Del Mar residents rejected in a March 2020 ballot measure.

Here are some of the highlights from the latest Seaside Ridge missive, signed by attorney Whitney A. Hodges, about several key sticking points between both sides:

Del Mar’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation requirement

The city of Del Mar has to provide zoning for 113 units of affordable housing, based on the state’s sixth cycle Regional Housing Needs Allocation that requires each community to add more housing at all income levels.

Del Mar’s housing element, which was approved a few months ago following about two years of back and forth with the state, includes properties that can accommodate that necessary affordable housing. The Del Mar Fairgrounds is the centerpiece of that effort, with the city in negotiations for 60 affordable units on the state-owned property.

“The City’s 6th Cycle Housing Element clearly identified several properties in the City, including the State Fairgrounds site as adequate sites that meet RHNA obligations consistent with state housing law,” Del Mar Principal Planner Matt Bator wrote in the June 30 letter, the city’s last communication to the Seaside Ridge side.

The north bluff, where Seaside Ridge would go, was identified in the housing element as a backup option if city and fairgrounds officials can’t make a deal.

“The fact the City has highlighted the Fairgrounds as a preferred site for housing, does not — and cannot — take away from the fact the Project site has been approved as a candidate site for densified housing pursuant to the 6th Cycle,” read the Seaside Ridge response.

The California Coastal Act and CEQA

The two sides were also at odds over whether the project adheres to the Coastal Act and California Environmental Quality Act. The city’s June 30 letter said that the Seaside Ridge application “neglects to recognize that all State Housing laws remain protective of environmental and coastal resources.”

“The State did not allow its mandated housing programs to override the State’s long lineage of protecting coastal resources and sensitive environmental habitats,” according to the city. “Each housing law clearly states that neither the California Coastal Act nor CEQA is to be superseded.”

The Seaside Ridge response says that the application doesn’t claim that the project would be exempt from either environmental law. It adds that the density bonus would apply within the coastal zone in a manner consistent with state law.

“The Project team recognizes that CEQA is not limited by the State Density Bonus Law,” the letter continued. “CEQA analysis must be completed on the Project as a whole, including any requests submitted under the State Density Bonus Law. However, this does not mean that the Project application, including the requested density bonus, incentives and waivers, somehow is violating CEQA. To the contrary.”

The Builder’s Remedy

A state law known as the Builder’s Remedy requires a local government without a compliant housing element to approve housing projects with at least 20% affordable housing, commonly referred to as “by-right” development that can supersede local zoning laws.

Del Mar’s position is that the Builder’s Remedy only comes into effect when an application is deemed complete. So far, the city has not deemed the Seaside Ridge application complete because it doesn’t adhere to the city’s Local Coastal Program, which outlines the parameters for development in the coastal zone.

“For the proposed project site, it is the Local Coastal Program that defines the density standards and is the controlling Coastal Act standard that cannot be unilaterally waived,” the city wrote.

But the Seaside Ridge side argues that the project meets the criteria under state law to proceed.

“Here, because the City did not have a substantially compliant housing element, it may not disapprove an affordable housing project for inconsistency with the zoning and land use designation.”

Design review

The city also contends that Seaside Ridge requires a Design Review Permit application.

“Discretionary Design Review Permit approval is required for all development in the City of Del Mar not otherwise exempted,” according to the city letter.

Seaside Ridge’s response reiterated that the applicant believes the project is by-right and shouldn’t be subject to any discretionary review: “For reasons stated above, Seaside Ridge is a by-right project and would not be subject to the City’s discretionary Design Review process. The fact that the City does not have an objective component of its Design Review process or a ministerial Design Review Permit is not a burden on the applicant.”