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The city’s North Commercial Zone, which abuts the San Dieguito Lagoon, includes a 2.3-acre lot currently being considered for Watermark Del Mar, a proposed development. The city approved the project for a specific plan, which allows the project to have its own zoning standards beyond the previously designated zoning of the area. Photo by Lexy Brodt
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Del Mar to assess rezoning

DEL MAR — Faced with ever-growing demands to remedy a deficit in housing, the City Council started taking the early, necessary steps Dec. 17 to expand the uses of two commercial zones to include a housing use.

The city’s certified housing element requires the city to add this zoning use, which is deemed appropriate to support affordable housing.

At the meeting, council directed staff to move forward with a work program and environmental impact report to study the impacts of adding a 20 dwelling unit per acre residential zoning use to the current allowed uses of the north commercial and professional commercial zones.

The north commercial zone skirts the San Dieguito Lagoon and includes 14 properties. It is currently zoned for commercial and light manufacturing uses. The professional commercial zone includes four properties along Camino Del Mar between 8th and 9th streets, and is currently designated for office uses.

Resident Arnie Weisel, who spoke during public comment as a representative of the Del Mar Hillside Community Association, found the 20 unit/acre zoning use for the north commercial zone to be a “massive deviation” from the surrounding area, which is largely occupied by single-family homes.

 “Under this proposal, I imagine a lot of these places selling out, being changed drastically, in exchange for what would be a far more economically attractive high-density housing,” Weisel said.

Several city residents took greater issue with a proposed action to also consider a residential zoning use for the public facilities zone, which includes the post office, the city’s new civic center, Shores Park (including the Winston School), and the library. City staff were incentivized to bring the possibility to council because it could be added to the environmental impact report at no extra cost, and would allow the city to look at a broader range of options.

Dena Harris, head mistress of the Winston School, was the first to speak out against the potential inclusion of the Shores Park and the Winston School.

“This sends a mixed message to us,” Harris said, pointing out the school’s 55-year lease agreement reached with the city in 2008.

Laura DiMarco, who spoke on behalf of Friends of Del Mar Parks, said the area has been explicitly designated for school purposes through a deed restriction on the property.

The city’s North Commercial Zone is currently designated for commercial and light manufacturing uses, while the Professional Commercial zone is designated for office uses. The city is moving forward with an environmental impact report and work plan to assess the feasibility of changing the zoning to allow for residential use. Photo courtesy of Del Mar Planning Department presentation

“You cannot violate the gift, the intent, the deed restrictions, and the intent of the donors in preserving the only school site and parkland available for our children for playing fields,” she said.

Council voted 3-2 to include the public facilities zone in the EIR analysis, but to exclude any analysis of Shores Park. Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland voted against the motion, on the grounds that she could not support a consideration of the library, Shores Park or the civic center. Mayor Dave Druker was also opposed.

“I think we have determined in some ways that (the public facilities zone) is not a spot where we want to put residential use in,” he said. “We don’t need an EIR to figure that out.”

Resident Traci Martinez implored the council to “think outside the box” when it comes to affordable housing, and address more scaled-down options.

“I think the developers love this time right now, because they can do these massive developments under the guise of giving a tiny bit of affordable housing. And I think we can do better than that,” she said.

The city’s Affordable Housing Mitigation Code calls for development proposals of 10 units or more to set aside 20 percent of the new units for rental to low-income households. By including affordable housing, developers in the state can ascertain a density bonus, which allows them to up the size of their projects.

The city of Del Mar currently has no affordable housing units, and is mandated by its housing element to accomplish 22 affordable units in this cycle, and 60 units total — whether affordable, market rate or above market rate.

The city’s “22 in 5” plan, a document that outlines the city’s options for affordable housing and aims to accomplish 22 affordable units by the end of 2021, provides potential scenarios for use of the north commercial and professional commercial zones. One scenario posits that if 50 percent of the combined acreage of the two zones were used for residential purposes, the two zones could accommodate 140 dwelling units, including 28 affordable rental units.

According to Councilman Dwight Worden, the city is bound by its community plan and housing element to proceed with an EIR on the north commercial and professional commercial zones, and ultimately amend their zoning. The same requirement does not apply to the public facilities zone.

“That train, for better or for worse, has already left the station,” Worden said. Council unanimously approved moving forward with the work program and EIR.

The EIR is to be conducted by a hired consultant, RECON, and the city’s work program would involve outreach to potentially impacted property owners, and drafting an amendment to the city’s community plan and local coastal program.

Councilwoman Ellie Haviland, in response to resident concerns regarding the zoning updates, said that the city’s “22 in 5” looks at parcels “all over the city,” not just those in the north commercial and professional commercial zones.

“We don’t have any other choice but to do that. If we try to go back on our current housing element, all we have to do is look north to Encinitas, and see all of the legal trouble they’re having,” she said, referring to a recent ruling which ordered the city of Encinitas to adopt a legally compliant housing plan within 120 days. “Every city struggles getting housing elements passed, and then implementing them. The state is becoming less and less permissive of cities that don’t follow through with their plans.”

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