Del Mar to develop different design standards for downtown


By Claire Harlin

Currently there is no differentiation between design review standards for commercial and residential properties in Del Mar. That’s why the City Council on April 16 directed staff to amend the Design Review Ordinance (DRO) to outline new development standards in the commercial zone that’s the focus of Village revitalization.

The idea has been recurring in recent community conversations about the draft Village Specific Plan (VSP), which will serve as the framework for future development in downtown Del Mar if it passes a public vote in November.

Community members have brought up a number of questions about how the design review process fits into downtown revitalization, and city officials want to create a set of new standards considering the increased density and unique design associated with the vision for downtown Del Mar, as distinguished from the design considerations for residential areas.

Del Mar planning manager Adam Birnbaum said there is also concern that, in looking to achieve a more densely developed downtown, applying the same rigorous view-protection standards used for residential properties may compromise property owners’ ability to increase development opportunities as set forth in the VSP.

In March, city officials received positive feedback from the Design Review Board in moving forward with DRO amendments, Birnbaum said.

The DRO amendments, once formulated, will be separate and distinct from the November public vote on the VSP.

The council was in agreement that it’s a good idea to move forward with amendments to the DRO.

Councilman Don Mosier addressed the issue of view protection in the commercial district, because he said it is something he has flip-flopped on. At first he thought it would be valuable and fair for downtown property owners to have view protection like everyone else. In addition, he said he was previously opposed to what he called “view inequality” — view protection for those outside, but not inside, the commercial district.

Mosier said he changed his mind when considering the likely situation that the view protection of a property on the east side of Camino Del Mar could prohibit the development of a second story on the west side.

“That would negate a lot of what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “In terms of achieving the goal of developing downtown and getting more residential downtown, the view protection has to be lost or it really stands in the way of sensible development.”

Mosier continued, “Also if you are going to have higher density units and you have a series of second-story condos that share walls, your privacy expectations have to be less than if you were in a single family dwelling in [a residential] zone. I think we do need to craft our Design Review Ordinances to be realistic and take into account what will work in the Village Specific Plan and what density we want to achieve.”

Mosier also said, and Councilwoman Lee Haydu agreed, that the design manual needs to reflect the character of Del Mar and encourage creative design, as opposed to rows of similar facades.

To view Del Mar’s draft Village Specific Plan, visit Written comments on the plan are being accepted through May 4, and there are a number of upcoming public meetings on revitalization. City officials will be on hand at the Del Mar Farmers’ Market every Saturday, there will be a question-and-answer session in the City Hall Annex on April 23 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and on April 30 there will be a special public workshop at 6 p.m.