Del Mar approves program that gives neighbors more say in design review process

By Claire Harlin

In 2010 when Del Mar City Councilwoman Lee Haydu was serving on the city’s Design Review Board (DRB), she helped pioneer a unique program that lets neighbors review development proposals early in the design phase, before they go before the formal DRB.

“I was the one who brought this forth to council when I was on the DRB and I’ve been following this along the whole time,” she said of the Citizens’ Participation Program (CPP), which the council voted unanimously on Oct. 22 to implement permanently after a two-year trial period they deemed successful.

During the two-year trial period, 13 projects required review by the CPP. According to the ordinance, the CPP should look into proposals that would contain more than 50 square feet of bulk floor, add a second story or “hold the potential to cause adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.” Of those 13 projects, one flew through approval on the design board’s consent calendar and six required only one public hearing.

City staff observed that, “while the CPP process has not resolved the neighborhood issues for all projects, it has been very effective in facilitating dialogue between applicants/architects and neighboring property owners prior to the DRB’s review of projects,” according to a recent report.

Implementing the CPP ordinance was a unanimous decision for the council, as was incorporating a few modifications that the DRB suggested during that trial period, which includes having story poles erected before the CPP and expanding the 500 square feet requirement to also apply to commercial developments, roof decks and one-story additions. The ordinance was also rewritten to require notifying neighbors at least 14 days prior to the CPP meeting, and within two weeks following the meeting, the project architects must provide written response to any concerns raised and explain how plans would be modified as a result of those concerns. That information shall be sent to all CPP meeting attendees and included in the report to be sent to the city.

Councilman Don Mosier said this time requirement is a great addition to the ordinance because there were several projects in his neighborhood in which he didn’t get a notice in time for the hearing with the architect.

He also said the CPP has prevented architects from “game playing,” that consists of “coming in on the first round knowing they had a plan that was unacceptable.” Such tactics have been used like a high offer, starting bigger than accepted to try to get more passed in the end. “Some of that has disappeared,” he said.