EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that two council members blocked certain land-use changes on two clusters of parcels. In fact, they blocked changes on only one of the clusters. Additionally, the accompanying graphic has been updated to reflect this change. We sincerely regret the error.
DEL MAR — Two Del Mar City Council members blocked long-planned residential land-use changes at a Sept. 8 meeting, leaving others worried the city will run afoul of state affordable housing law and face myriad consequences.
Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland and Councilman Dave Druker cast no votes, preventing the four-fifths supermajority required to give full effect to a raft of proposed legislation.
The aborted measure aimed “to bring the city into compliance with state law,” Principal Planner Amanda Lee told the Council on Tuesday. “These actions are long overdue, and are a key piece of the city’s balanced housing strategy.”
Specifically, the blocked change would’ve allowed denser multi-family residential development on 16 parcels under the North Commercial (NC) land-use designation. These parcels form a cluster near the San Dieguito Lagoon across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Their zoning currently allows various commercial and light industrial uses, as well as certain very-low-density housing.
Council unanimously agreed to the same change on four other parcels under the Professional Commercial (PC) land-use designation along Camino del Mar near Shores Park.
However, failure to implement the changes on all the parcels in question, according to a city staff report, could result in the state overriding local land-use authority, ineligibility for state grant funding, lawsuits, fines by the state up to $100,000 per month, and accelerated planning requirements that will eat up city staff’s time — what Councilman Dwight Worden called a “parade of horrors.”
“[This decision] is going to decimate our city budget. … We just signed up for all kinds of penalties, legal fees, staff time,” Mayor Ellie Haviland said.
The state-approved 2013-2021 Housing Element of the city’s General Plan obligated the city by 2015 to amend these parcels’ zoning with the new residential use, at a density of 20 units per acre. The state deems that density the minimum necessary to spread development costs sufficiently to finance building lower-income housing units.
An updated Housing Element, currently in the works, also presumes these changes to meet state-mandated affordable housing targets between 2021 and 2029. A draft update, the development of which has cost the city some $415,000 so far, will come before the Planning Commission next week and council next month. The draft update was to head to the state government for review in October, leaving time for back-and-forth revisions ahead of an April adoption deadline, though that timeline is now in question.
“We are backing up our Housing Elements to a point that I don’t know how that’s all going to play out,” Planning and Community Development Director Joseph Smith said.
“In the years we’ve all been on council, this has come before us many times … and each time it was clear we were moving forward with the NC/PC amendments,” Worden said.
“We don’t have months and months to play around and come up with alternatives. This has been studied over and over and over,” Haviland said. “It’s reckless to give our public the perception that we have all the time in the world to debate this and study this and spend more time and staff resources on this.”
But “no one approached [the state] with an alternative to the NC up-zone, ever,” Gaasterland told The Coast News. “Now, with [Tuesday’s] vote, we will be obliged to approach them.”
Gaasterland pointed to alternatives outlined in a June 15 report from certain members of the city’s Housing Element Ad-Hoc Citizens’ Task Force. The report prioritized repurposing various city-owned properties and the Del Mar Fairgrounds for affordable housing, as well as encouraging homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (“granny flats”).
Gaasterland said allowing more residential density near the lagoon would put residents at risk of a constrained evacuation route in the event of wildfires, as well as sea-level rise.
“We just need to postpone and take a harder look,” she said Tuesday. “I’m not being reckless. I’m providing credible, feasible alternatives.”
“[The property in question] should be residential, I want it to be residential. I just don’t like the 20 units per acre zoning,” Druker said, preferring a lower density cap instead. “By allowing it to be 20 units per acre, we create the potential for a massive number of units to be in that area.”
City staff estimate as many as 111 units in total. However, Gaasterland figures more than double that figure.
Smith and City Attorney Barry Schultz concurred that capping density any lower would prevent the city from achieving compliance. A recent Environmental Impact Report also concluded a lower-density alternative “would not feasibly attain the most basic objectives of the proposed program.”
Druker said the Council should hold off deciding such “a hot button issue” until after the November election, where three of five council seats are up for grabs.