Del Mar looking for affordable housing site

By Claire Harlin

It’s one challenge after another for the Del Mar City Council.

Officials poured months of work into a revitalization plan that failed this month at the polls, and there is still revitalizing to be done in Del Mar. Now, they’ve got to find a place to rezone for affordable housing — about 70 units on less than 4 acres — and while the council decided Nov. 19 to put public workshops in motion to get residents’ feedback on the issue, the outcome of these efforts are a little less negotiable than Prop J was. In other words, whether residents like it or not, affordable housing is coming to Del Mar — it’s just a matter of how and, more importantly, where.

As required by law, the city is preparing a draft Housing Element for the 2013-2020 cycle, and it’s scheduled for review by the city’s Planning Commission at a Dec. 5 public hearing. An estimated 25 percent of Del Mar’s residents qualify for affordable housing, and under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), the city must provide 71 units total, with varying levels of affordability, to meet the needs of the community.

In October, city staff briefed the council on housing law and the region’s housing needs and requirements, as dictated by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). HCD has determined that in Del Mar a density of at least 20 dwelling units per acre must be met to reasonably make the units affordable. There’s an urgency for the city to show HCD that it has achieved or is well on its way to achieving this “site inventory” standard, and the city’s Housing Element — which the city aims to get certified next spring — should reflect that.

To meet this standard, the city will have to modify its zoning code, and the City Council on Nov. 19 identified two options to explore — either substantially increasing the allowed residential density from the existing one unit per parcel to 20 units in the central commercial zone (CC) or rezoning one or more properties to a new classification that would allow residential development at that same density.

City planning manager Adam Birnbaum said there’s a prospective purchaser of two properties in the north commercial NC zone — which encompasses 17 properties along the San Dieguito Lagoon just south of the fairgrounds — who has expressed interest in a new zoning designation. The CC zone encompasses the Village area along Camino Del Mar.

A third option would be modifying the city code to allow residential development at a density of 20 units per acre in the NC zone. Another option the council chose not to explore was to rezone the public facilities (PF) zone.

Councilman Don Mosier said the situation he wants to avoid is compromising the community’s wants to meet HCD’s standards. For example, the community may not like the idea of a residential development in the NC zone, but that may be what the city must do to be in compliance with the law.

Because Del Mar is small, built-out and spread out, it’s a challenging area to find space for affordable housing. Not to mention, there are a lot of environmentally sensitive areas in the community, as well as high land cost and concern about property values.

Birnbaum said Del Mar is not unique in this challenge.

“As I track the progress of Housing Elements of other jurisdictions, they are going though a very similar process, but there are requirements under state law and one of them is to identify housing sites,” he said. “That’s why the direction we are seeking is what are the most appropriate sites to pursue in the next steps of the process.”

Mosier said incorporating affordable housing into the city’s plan is going to take major outreach and educational efforts regarding the needs and benefits of complying with state housing laws.

Mayor Carl Hilliard added, “We have to get over the ‘not-in-my-backyard’ problem.”

For more information about the city’s zones or to view a zoning map, visit