DEL MAR — City Council kept downtown revitalization moving along Oct. 6 with a 4-1 vote to establish an in-lieu parking program. The implementing ordinance is the third of four parking code amendments approved as part of revitalization plans.
The in-lieu program allows a property owner to pay a fee rather than develop up to 50 percent of the required number of onsite parking spaces. Funds will be used to create public parking spaces, a municipal parking facility or other programs such as a shuttle service to address downtown parking needs.
The fee has not been set, but Brian Mooney, interim planning director, said it will likely be in the range of $36,000 to $40,000 per space, which some landowners have indicated they would be willing to pay.
“It’s very important that we get a realistic fee for that in-lieu parking that ultimately can be used to really produce parking,” Mooney said.
Although the ordinance will go into effect after adoption at the second reading, fees cannot be collected until the program receives Coastal Commission approval and the city has identified a location or shuttle service. Fees will likely be paid up front and in full, according to Adam Birnbaum, principal planner.
Councilwoman Crystal Crawford had concerns about how the program might impact surrounding residential neighborhoods.
“If any of the parking lots are identified close to the residential neighborhoods, the impacts of that would have to be addressed in that project,” Mooney said. “We’re going to have to prove that there aren’t impacts.”
Resident Rick Ehrenfeld said the in-lieu program should only be an option for existing businesses.
“I would almost think this ordinance would be stronger if it had two parts,” Ehrenfeld said. “New construction would meet the parking requirements, period. Existing places that we felt were under incredible duress, maybe we allow them some relief. … When they go to redevelop that property we say, ‘OK, now meet the parking requirement.’ It’s in the spirit of what we’re trying to get done here.”
Although Councilman Richard Earnest liked the concept, he said it could discourage redevelopment. “There’s a lot of merit in what Mr. Ehrenfeld said, and we ought to examine that, but we ought to be careful of what we’re trying to accomplish and what we may create,” Earnest said.
“I wouldn’t want to slip into that straightjacket,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said. “I think we need to leave ourselves the flexibility of dealing with the circumstances and the situation as we find it at the time the applications roll in.”
Kimberly Johnson, interim city attorney, said the ordinance is designed to allow flexibility until subsequent regulations and implementation measures are brought before council. Authorization for use of the program is not guaranteed or automatic and is subject to discretionary review and approval, she said.
“The entire ordinance scheme is discretionary,” Johnson said. “In other words, an applicant ‘may’ satisfy it. The city retains discretion on a case-by-case basis to say, ‘No in your particular case, it’s not appropriate to use in-lieu fees.’”
“I’m having a little bit of difficulty with this,” Mayor Dave Druker said. “I think we’re getting a little bit ahead of our public because … we don’t really have a plan.
“On paper the in-lieu fee sounds good. It makes sense. But ultimately, the devil’s in the details on how we’re going to implement this, and I just don’t think we’re ready,” he said.
“I think we owe it to the community to stop talking about fixing some of the problems we have and to try to bring some of those things forward,” Crawford said. “A lot of the ideas we’re trying to go forward on now have been vetted.
“Many times those good ideas never got off the paper. This may be one that doesn’t get used much,” she said. “If we never try anything then we don’t find out if it works or not. … If it doesn’t work then we’ll fix it.”
Mooney noted that the in-lieu program is just one part of a tool kit council is developing for downtown revitalization.
At the Sept. 8 meeting, council adopted two other parking code modifications. One allows a decrease in the number of existing parking spaces when the reduction is required to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The other amends the standards for common, shared and off-site parking.
Staff is still researching a code modification that would increase parking ratios for restaurants from one space per 90 square feet to one space for every 120 square feet. Horizontal zoning, development standards and downtown housing are also still being discussed. Revitalization efforts that have been approved include the addition of sidewalk cafes, creation of a minimum work space area and review process for blade signs.