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A view of Del Mar from the northern part of the North Commercial zone. File photo
A view of Del Mar from the northern part of the North Commercial zone. File photo
Community CommentaryOpinion

Commentary: How did North Commercial referendum help Del Mar?

Del Mar now has a glimmer of hope, even as state housing mandates impose increased density, shrunken setbacks, height limit waivers, and parcels loaded with multi-story buildings regardless of coastal lagoon, wetland, and bluff sensitivities.

Here’s what has happened:

In 2013, the city was required to find a place for high-density housing. The 2013 City Council (Don Mosier, Sheryl Parks, Lee Haydu, Al Corti and Terry Sinnott) designated the entire North Commercial zone and gave the Watermark property “by right development” without discretionary design review.

Fast forward to October 2020 — after heated debate, the City Council voted 3 to 2, with Gaasterland and Druker voting no, to implement the high-density residential zone change without considering water, electric, parking or traffic demands — and further, without considering the fragile wetlands and sensitive lagoon life in the area.

In response, nearly 20% of Del Mar residents exercised their democratic rights and signed a petition to reconsider the up-zone by placing it on the ballot. 

In just two rainy weeks, 591 residents from nearly every street in Del Mar signed the petition.

The residents’ efforts were more than enough to put the zone change on hold until the people of Del Mar could weigh in on a future ballot or the new council could look for a better solution. 

Since January, we have been working hard to craft a Referendum Withdrawal Agreement that guarantees the following nine meaningful steps to improve and protect the area:

1. PROTECT THE WETLANDS. All parcels bordering wetlands excluded from high-density.

2. REDUCE UP-ZONE BY HALF. 16 acres reduced to eight. More than enough to satisfy state housing requirements.

3. HONOR OUR DESIGN REVIEW ORDINANCES. Objective Design Standards were crafted and approved for future “by right” projects. (Because Watermark was already underway, it is not covered by the new Design Standards.)

4. ENSURE QUALITY OF LIFE. Del Mar zoning ordinances were reviewed to assure neighbors that restrictions are already in place to limit noise and exclude rooftop decks and equipment, glare from lighting, overflow parking, and other intrusions such as trash collection.

5. WILDFIRE SAFETY. Within six months, Del Mar will assess wildfire evacuation in the area and implement a Wildfire Evacuation Plan.

6. WILDFIRE ESCAPE. Within six months, a private strip of San Dieguito Drive will be considered for future dedication to the city so that the road will always be well maintained — all residents along Oribia Road depend on this road for safe evacuation.

7. LIMIT OVERFLOW PARKING INTO ADJOINING NEIGHBORHOODS. Parking control measures will be identified to prevent over-parking on nearby residential streets.

8. ENSURE NEW RENTAL HOUSING STAYS RENTAL. Within two years, the council will consider prohibiting condo conversions for all rental apartments built “by right.”

9. ENSURE NEW HOUSING IS FOR RESIDENTS. Within two years, the council will consider prohibiting short-term rental of housing units in high-density multi-family buildings built to fulfill our state housing mandates.

The agreement to withdraw the referendum, signed last week, guarantees that the steps above will all happen — and soon.

The Del Mar community has accomplished something important together. We reduced the acreage from 16 acres to eight and instituted much needed protections for the wetlands and the adjoining residential neighborhoods.

We found a way to abide by our state mandated housing assignment and we protected the goals of the Del Mar Community Plan.

Arnold Wiesel, Del Mar Hillside Association, Referendum Proponent

Tracy Martinez, City Council Member

Terry Gaasterland, Mayor, City of Del Mar

Note: Gaasterland and Martinez write as individuals, not on behalf of the city or the council.