Group will study how to apply new codes

Creating a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown that reflects Del Mar’s unique character has been the focus of numerous studies, from the community plan drafted in 1976 to the more recent workshop with design expert Fred Kent.

Now, the city is taking action to make the visions in these studies a reality through the use of form-based codes.

Form-based codes are a way of planning and managing development that focuses on the physical shape and placement of a structure on a site, rather than on formulas to determine a building’s size and location.

“The current codes, which have been around since the advent of the automobile, drive you towards building a box,” said Councilman Carl Hilliard. “Form-based codes allow you to be creative in design and placement, treat each lot individually.”

A nine-member citizen’s committee, with help from city staff, Hilliard and Deputy Mayor Richard Earnest, is studying how form-based codes can be applied to the downtown, beach and North commercial districts.

Throughout the summer, they will go block by block and come up with recommendations for how each block could look like if redeveloped, taking into consideration views, character, landscaping, sidewalks, traffic and parking.

While this does mean change, committee chairman Howard Gad emphasized the group plans to stay true to ideas and desires already expressed by the community.

“We’re not there to rewrite the community plan,” Gad said. “We’re there to try to pull together all the studies that have been done.”

The committee’s initial drawings of building outlines will be presented to the community for their input during a multi-day workshop, called a charrette, this fall.

“The most important thing to us is outreach,” said Brian Mooney, the city’s interim planning director. “The process has to be really inclusive of everybody.”

The end product will provide a very clear visualization for how the community would like to see the village developed. If property owners agree to follow these guidelines, they will fast-track through the city’s review process, because most of the public review has been completed up front.

This predictability is key to encourage property owners to redevelop their aging properties, which will help revitalize the downtown that has not had any significant development in 20 years.

“A lot of structures in town, termites and gravity are winning,” Gad said. “The process has to be less onerous than it has been.”

Where the Design Review Board, often cited as part of the reason for lengthy review in Del Mar, fits into this process is still to be determined, Mooney said.

Another issue to be discussed is possibility repealing Measure B, which requires a voter approval of large projects in downtown Del Mar.

Gad, who helped redesign the more affordable 17th Street lifeguard station, said the Form Based Code Committee plans to make their process as transparent as possible. To that end, their monthly meetings will be televised and archived online. Check

for the meeting schedule.