The Coast News Group
Del Mar is modifying its business license tax for precious metal dealers. The city assesses the tax based on annual gross revenue, but because the industry generally has a low profit margin the formula is “disadvantageous,” according to the manager at Liberty Coin and Metals, currently the only such business in the city. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Council adjusts a few rules, but none for downtown revitalization

DEL MAR — Council members made a few changes at the Feb. 19 meeting that could make life easier for a few residents and businesses, but stopped short of establishing new design standards to address development downtown. 

Council agreed to adopt an ordinance that extends by two years all land use authorizations set to expire in 2013.

During the past few years, because of the sluggish economy, people who received permits were having difficulty getting financing for their projects.

In 2011, council adopted an ordinance giving an 18-month extension to all Design Review Board, Planning Commission and City Council permits.

Although the economy is recovering, “there remains a lingering impact on the ability of permittees to implement and vest their project approvals,” according to a staff report.

Three of the seven people who have permits expiring this year have asked for extensions, including Mike Batter, who owns the property on the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.

Batter said he started processing permits for a small office building on the lot seven years ago.

“When we began the process, the market for office space was very strong,” he wrote in a letter to council members. “It took five years and much pain on our part and that of our neighbors. When we completed the process … the market was in shambles and the banks were worse off.”

Batter’s permits are due to expire in September. Without the extension he would have to reapply and pay all the required fees again.

“I think it’s fair,” Councilman Al Corti said. “There has been an economic downturn. I don’t know why we wouldn’t approve these.”

Councilman Don Mosier said he also supports the requests as long as there are no “substantive changes in the circumstances.”

Land use approvals are valid for three years and in most cases that has been adequate time to complete a project.

Staff was also directed to create a code amendment to establish a process for individual permit extension requests in the future.

Council members also agreed to amend the city code to modify the business license tax for precious metal dealers, although there currently is only one such business in the city.

Del Mar assesses the tax based on annual gross revenue. Richard Lambertus, manager of Liberty Coin and Metals, asked city officials to reconsider that assessment based on the high gross revenue and narrow profit margin in that industry.

Lambertus said the formula is “disadvantageous to their business.” The state has already adopted special tax treatment for the precious metal business because the profit margin is so low.

Council members opted to follow the state law and will exempt the sales of monetized bullion, nonmonetized gold or silver, bullion and numismatic coins purchased in bulk — defined as a transaction of more than $1,500 — from the gross receipts used to compute the business license tax.

Liberty Coin’s business license tax information is confidential so exact numbers weren’t made public.

Staff also proposed establishing standards the Design Review Board could use for projects in the central commercial zone because the existing regulations are broad and focus primarily on residential properties.

They also don’t address aesthetics or view and privacy rights, don’t guard against monotonous facades, are not pedestrian friendly and are mostly written in the negative, indicating what isn’t allowed but not what can be done.

Council members support downtown revitalization despite the November defeat of a ballot measure aimed at improving the central commercial zone. But they generally agreed it may not be the right time to develop new standards.

“We’ve had a lot of community envisioning exercises,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “Everybody thought our downtown needed some visual improvement.

“They didn’t like what was here,” he said. “They wanted something different but they didn’t agree on what that different was. So I think that’s the dilemma we face.”

City Manager Scott Huth said it would be nice to have established standards for the downtown area so they didn’t have to be developed “in a crisis,” but he agreed the timing might not be right.

“I’m questioning the timing because I know we have a lot of things to work on,” Huth said.

Conceptually it’s a good thing to do but it’s not urgent to move forward immediately, Mayor Terry Sinnott said.

Council plans to address this issue sometime in the future.