Del Mar weighs in on building standards

Del Mar weighs in on building standards
About 70 percent of the commercial buildings on the west side of Camino del Mar are higher than the 14-foot height limit and approximately 40 percent exceed the allowable floor area ratio because they were constructed before modern regulations were in place. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

DEL MAR — As city staff works to create a specific plan for downtown revitalization, City Council weighed in on development standards for privately owned property during a workshop at the Feb. 21 meeting.Staff looked at existing land uses and standards, studied the development criteria in similar communities and analyzed environmental and economic effects that would be created by modifying the standards that regulate land use and development.

The research indicates existing regulations create disincentives for property owners to improve their buildings and provide additional parking.

Based on those studies, community feedback and input from the Design Review Board and Planning Commission, staff developed seven changes to existing standards that include allowing mixed-use development, increasing the maximum height limit on the west side of Camino del Mar from 14 feet to 26 feet and creating a build-to line that would bring building facades to the sidewalk to entice pedestrians.

About 70 percent of the commercial buildings on the west side of Camino del Mar already exceed the 14-foot height limit because they were constructed before the current zoning regulations were in place.

The proposed changes also include adding more uses to the existing horizontal zoning regulations and requiring building setbacks and step-backs to protect privacy and access to sunlight for adjacent residential uses, preserve existing public scenic views and provide convenient, accessible parking behind buildings.

With Lee Haydu and Mark Filanc absent, Councilmen Terry Sinnott and Don Mosier and Mayor Carl Hilliard generally supported those options.

In her presentation, Planning Director Kathy Garcia also proposed increasing the floor area ratio, (FAR), to .75, but council members said they thought that was still too low. They recommended raising it to .90 or 1.0.

With the current .45 FAR, properties can only be developed to less than half their site area, and about 40 percent of existing buildings, including Stratford Square, already exceed that. A remodel using the .45 FAR would result in a new building with a smaller usable area than what previously existed.

The proposed changes also offer incentives, such as an increased FAR, if property owners provide public benefits that include affordable housing, extra public parking or using sustainable building standards to achieve LEED certification.

“I think it’s great what’s being proposed,” resident Al Corti said, although he noted the .75 FAR should be a minimum as he considered it too low.

Mark Stuckelman, who lives close to the village, had concerns about increased building heights.

“A 30-foot-high row of buildings separating downtown from the ocean will fundamentally change the character of Del Mar and have a very negative impact on the quality of life for Del Mar residents,” he said.

“Del Mar is a special city. It is not worth destroying what we have in search of increased economic vitality, which is far from certain,” he added. “Just because you put nicer buildings in does not mean that you’re going to get better economic activity.”

Stuckelman also said he had concerns that redevelopment would result in increased noise and air pollution and ocean runoff.

“This is not appropriate in a fragile coastal environment,” he said. “I’m supportive of revitalizing downtown, however, it needs to be done in a sensible way that maintains the character of Del Mar and protects our environment.”

Linda Roth said residents have legitimate concerns about building heights, density and view blockage. But given the fact that many existing buildings already conform to the proposed zoning changes, “We’re not talking about dramatic increases,” she said. “It’s just not that disastrous a scenario added to the fact that it’s not going to happen overnight.”

The proposal also includes adding a design review ordinance with specific guidelines. Council members said they want the review process to have minimal, if any, subjective elements.

The city held a workshop to discuss reconfiguring Camino del Mar as a two-lane road with roundabouts during a February workshop that can be viewed on the website. Parking will be addressed during the March 5 council meeting.

A draft specific plan and environmental impact report will be released March 19.

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