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Downtown Del Mar may set different design standards

DEL MAR — To better define redevelopment standards should the proposed village specific plan be approved by voters in November, council members directed staff at the April 16 meeting to create an amendment to the design review ordinance that would apply to projects in the downtown area.The draft specific plan, which is currently available on the city website for public review and comments, includes development regulations that would replace existing standards in the commercial zone.

The proposed regulations could potentially increase the allowable building height on the west side of Camino del Mar and the floor area ratio for all structures. They could also add residential units in mixed-use projects.

The specific plan also requires projects in the designated area, which includes 15th Street and along Camino del Mar from Ninth Street up to but excluding Del Mar Plaza and L’Auberge resort, to undergo design review and calls for creation of design guidelines.

The design review ordinance is a set of regulatory standards used by the Design Review Board to determine whether a project is approved. Most projects are, Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum said, unless they violate one or more of the design review standards.

Design guidelines are more specific and typically provide more detail and suggestions as to how architecture and design elements can be included in a project design to ensure compliance with the regulatory standards.
Some examples include the use of awnings, colors choices and building cornices. Guidelines don’t have the same level of regulatory <application> as the ordinance itself, Birnbaum said.

During community outreach events and City Council, Planning Commission and Design Review Board meetings it was suggested that a different set of design criteria be developed for downtown development.

“We did receive comments from a number of folks that perhaps there should be a special set of ordinance sections that are applicable to projects in the village specific plan,” Birnbaum said.

“While most of those existing DRO standards are very broadly written, some of them are clearly more focused on impacts for residential areas, and a clear example there is protection of views from the primary living area of a residence,” he said. “Currently there are no specific design review standards with regard to commercial development.”

Applying the same type of rigorous review for view and privacy impacts downtown that apply to less dense areas of the community may compromise the ability of property owners to achieve the development standards in the specific plan, Birnbaum said.

“That could compromise the investment that we’re hoping to achieve,” he added.

Any changes would not modify view and privacy protections currently given to properties outside the specific plan area. Projects within the specific plan area would still be subject to review for any view blockage or privacy impacts on properties outside the area. Views from downtown public areas such as sidewalks and streets will continue to be protected.

“We do need to craft our design review ordinances to be realistic,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “We do need to tweak the DROs quite seriously to deal with a different expectation of how downtown is going to be developed.”

Neither of the two existing specific plans in the city for L’Auberge and Del Mar Plaza has a set of guidelines, however, the latter has a design manual.

“We need a design manual (for the specific plan area) that reflects the uniqueness of Del Mar,” Mosier said.

“I understand it’s a different animal entirely from the residential area,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “We … need to kind of really think this out and make sure it’s done well. I’m sure the community is going to have a lot of input and thoughts we can use.”

Council agreed to move forward with ordinance amendments but opted to wait on creating guidelines. Staff will return to council with a draft ordinance for approval at an upcoming meeting.

Mayor Carl Hilliard said presenting the changes prior to the election could help remove some uncertainty about the specific plan that voters will decide on during the November election.

The amendments will become effective only if the specific plan is adopted.

“I’m ready to go forward to see what is brought back to us,” Councilwoman Lee Haydu said.