Del Mar City Council takes a step back on tightening of standards for downtown commercial projects

By Claire Harlin

The Del Mar City Council on Feb. 19 decided to hold off on tightening the city’s

design review ordinance

(DRO), a measure that has been on the table for the past year to put in place more guidelines for commercial projects.

Del Mar has been criticized in the past for having strict development guidelines that hinder new business, however, there is no differentiation between commercial and residential property standards, officials say. That’s why the council

in April 2011 directed staff

to amend the DRO to outline new aesthetic and design standards for downtown commercial projects. The move happened while the city was crafting its

Village Specific Plan

(VSP), a development framework that would have likely brought new business to downtown had it passed in the November



The council agreed that the


, aimed at guarding against a row of monotonous facades and ensuring an appropriate pedestrian experience downtown, is conceptually a good idea, but the amendment process would not be worth city staff time at this point.

Councilman Don Mosier pointed out that Del Mar may have needed those guidelines in place had the VSP passed, however the city is not seeing an influx of new development at this time and is rather “in the business of controlling underdevelopment.”


proposed amendment

would have also sought to protect view and privacy rights of downtown residential developments, for which likely no standards exist because downtown residential units are few and far between. The VSP, however, would have allowed mixed-use residential development downtown, and potentially welcomed projects to the city.

Mayor Terry Sinnott said the amendment could be interpreted as a negative rather than a positive for potential developers or business owners.

“I’d love to have something in place that encourages people to come to Del Mar to invest,” he said.

City Manager Scott Huth said he supports the idea of putting precautions in place before ending up in a crisis situation with no adequate guidelines, however, he said he would like this process to be done with the collaboration of the community. He said the city may face a challenge in trying to define some elements of the proposed amendment, such as the view corridors that were outlined in the VSP, because new commercial development has not yet happened downtown and the city has therefore not experienced those issues.

“I also question the timing because we have a lot of other things to work on too,” Huth said.

Sinnott suggested revisiting the measure, possibly within 12 to 18 months, putting it aside as a “placeholder project.”