DEL MAR — Fearing enforcement actions by the state, the Del Mar Planning Commission recommended Tuesday that the City Council reconsider last week’s decision not to allow denser residential development in the city’s North Commercial zone.
Without the change, the city remains out of compliance with state affordable housing law. It’s been out of compliance since 2015. Council will reconsider the proposed rezoning Oct.5.
City staff warned that noncompliance could result in the state overriding local land-use authority, ineligibility for state grant funding, lawsuits, fines, and accelerated planning requirements that would eat up staff’s time. The City of Encinitas has spent some $2 million in connection with its similar noncompliance, city planner Amanda Lee told the planning commission.
“The state has ramped up its enforcement authority,” Lee said. “Del Mar is probably a target that would be a good example for them to show other cities in our in our boat what type of penalties they could impose.”
“Rescinding compliance and referral to the [Attorney General] are certainly options under consideration,” the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) told The Coast News in a statement. “These are essential statutory requirements for meeting housing needs.”
Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland and Councilman Dave Druker blocked the rezone at council’s Sept. 8 meeting, preventing a required four-fifths supermajority.
The North Commercial area comprises 16 parcels near the San Dieguito Lagoon across from the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Their zoning currently allows commercial and light industrial uses, as well as certain very-low-density housing.
The state-approved 2013-2021 Housing Element (or chapter) of the city’s General Plan obligated the city by 2015 to amend these parcels’ zoning to allow residential development at a density of 20 units per acre.
The Housing Element outlines how the city plans to meet state-mandated affordable housing production targets. Higher density — 20 units per acre in Del Mar’s case — serves “to accommodate the economies of scale needed to produce affordable housing,” according to published HCD guidance.
The city’s draft 2021-2029 Housing Element, which city staff wants council’s authorization to submit in November for HCD’s review, also assumes North Commercial residential development.
“North Commercial is an integral piece of this housing strategy,” Lee said. Toward meeting the city’s target of adding 113 lower-income affordable units, city staff estimates the North Commercial parcels, if rezoned, could yield 20 units. The rest would come from other rezoned commercial areas, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), city-owned properties, vacant land and/or a hoped-for partnership with the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“Right now, we’re not in compliance with state law. We’re at risk of having our [2013-2021] Housing Element decertified. The [2021-2029 Housing Element] is something that can correct that, it can bring us into good status with the state,” Lee said.
Druker said Sept. 8 he agrees with adding residential development, though at some density less than 20 units per acre.
Gaasterland said allowing more residential density in the North Commercial area would put residents at risk of wildfires and sea-level rise. She wants to consider alternatives, such as outlined in a June 15 report from certain members of a city advisory task force.
“The ‘other side’ is doing an excellent job at fear-mongering,” Gaasterland told The Coast News in a Sept. 16 statement. “We need a renewed, serious, sensible discussion with HCD. We need to work with the Fairgrounds. We need the conversation to continue cooperatively.”
She noted the 2013-2021 Housing Element is already reaching its end, HCD having begun counting unit production for the 2021-2029 planning cycle as of June 30. Druker told The Coast News on Sept. 17 that he agrees with Gaasterland’s assessment.
Planning commissioners didn’t see any viable alternatives. Some said not rezoning the North Commercial area could force the city to allow development on bluff areas or parks instead.
An arrangement with the Del Mar Fairgrounds is possible, but nothing is yet committed to.
“I don’t see any incentive for the state to let us off the hook by cutting a deal with the Fairgrounds, certainly not in the immediate future,” Planning Commissioner John Farrell said. “The fact is that we’ve run out of space, and we’ve run out of time.”