Del Mar planners make recommendations on affordable housing

By Claire Harlin

The Del Mar Planning Commission on Jan. 2 signed off on a number of suggestions to send to the City Council regarding affordable housing, which came to the table after weeks of collaboration among residents and local entities, such as the city’s Housing Element Advisory Committee, Housing Corporation and nonprofit Del Mar Community Connections.

These modifications to the draft housing element of the city’s general plan, if approved on Jan. 14 by the City Council, will head to the California Department of Housing and Development (HCD) for preliminary approval. As part of a state-mandated update, the extensive document will identify the city’s housing conditions, needs, programs and goals through year 2020. However, the city is hung up on a particular hurdle — showing the state it can accommodate 71 new housing units, 22 of which need to be affordable enough to serve those in the lowest income bracket (a population that constitutes between 20 and 25 percent of Del Mar residents).

Del Mar faces a challenge in that there’s limited space that could accommodate at least 20 units per acre, a number determined by HCD to be the lowest density possible to achieve affordability, and most of residents’ concerns have been in relation to this “sites inventory” portion of the housing element — figuring out where to put new units within Del Mar’s built-out, environmentally-sensitive, high-value land space.

“I’m confident that the city has a wide variety of housing programs that will help demonstrate that we have good programs in place to achieve affordable housing,” said Del Mar Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum. “As to whether the state is going to sign off on all of those, especially the site inventory and whether enough land is designated at that density, that’s a harder one for us to know.”

After much community discussion, the commission approved doing away with the idea of rezoning in the central commercial (downtown) zone to allow 20 units per acre, but it added the consideration of public facility zones back into the discussion.

When it comes to the city’s condominium conversion program, the commission approved changing the affordable unit set-aside program from a 10- to 30-percent figure — meaning if a complex owner converts units, 30 percent must be affordable. However, commissioner Lani Curtis pointed out that there should be some flexibility with that number, considering that it is not possible to anticipate future property values and whether that incentive to convert units will be financially feasible or profitable in the future. The commission also improved a yearly cap on the number of condos converted, and it can later be determined as an amendment whether that means per city, per building or per zone, Birnbaum said.

The commission retained the consideration of the north commercial (NC) zone, which the Housing Corporation has suggested presents much opportunity for the city. Don Countryman, of the Housing Corporation, said he would like to see one or more of the 17 parcels there to be zoned at 20 units per acre for housing. It’s also an area in which retail development would be a good for the city, he said, especially since the area is a short walk to the San Dieguito Lagoon.

Barbara Stegman, a resident on the Housing Element Update Advisory Committee, said there’s still a big need for public input on affordable housing.

“We didn’t really have time to discuss the ramifications,” she said. “As each of these things come up, like condo conversion, there needs to be a big public airing because the public is out there and they are worried.”

The City Council will continue this discussion on Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1050 Camino Del Mar, and a report containing all the recommendations discussed by the commission is available at https://