Not too big, just right; Thresholds and triggers

Del Mar is on the verge of realizing the vision of our Community Plan for a pedestrian-oriented, viable, resident-serving downtown. However, our draft Village Specific Plan(VSP) is arousing fears that we might be growing too big, too fast.

Of course, the VSP is a 30-year plan that is very likely to unfold gradually, but fear of change is conjuring up some worst-case scenarios. Will we end up “canyonizing or La Jollaizing” our downtown and losing the human scale we all value?

Some community members asked for a more gradual phasing in of the plan with more controls. City planners and City Council have come up with a response, adding to the plan a series of strategic “thresholds and triggers.” The purpose of these mechanisms is to prevent development from growing out of control. The levers of growth control will remain in the hands of Delmarians, not developers. At strategic threshold points of growth, the plan will be suspended while we take a fresh look to see if we like the rate and nature of change. If not, we modify the VSP accordingly. If we think it is working to our satisfaction, we resume implementing the plan until we reach the next threshold when we take another look.

One of the most critical thresholds focuses on the amount of new square footage we add to the downtown. The 30-year projection is for about 300,000 square footage of new development, roughly twice what we now have. However, the threshold that will trigger a reassessment is 100,000 square feet or 10 years, whichever comes first. At that point, we decide if we like what is happening or not; we can stop, go forward, or modify. Another threshold occurs when we reach another 100,000. The same applies to the housing units, with thresholds to ensure our mix of uses is achieving our goals and objectives.

One of the most worrisome aspects of the VSP is increasing heights on the west side of the highway from14 to 26 feet. An anti-canyonization threshold has been added to the plan that limits those height increases to only 50 percent of the buildings in each block prior to review and another decision.

Another worrisome element of the VSP is the circulation element calling for narrowing to two lanes and installing roundabouts instead of stop signs and red lights.

The analysis clearly documents that this configuration will enable an increased traffic load, but at slower, steadier speeds. This design is intended to relieve traffic impacts on nearby streets, but residents have expressed skepticism. Thresholds have been added to the plan to measure any impacts on those streets; if so it will trigger a set-aside fund to implement diversion and calming measures.

No plan is perfect. We have to experience the changes to see what works. These and other thresholds and triggers give us the controls we need to guide the changes that will work for Del Mar. The key is that citizens manage change, not developers.