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An initiative that would let voters decide the fate of large projects in commercial areas, including Watermark Del Mar, will be on the November ballot. Courtesy rendering
An initiative that would let voters decide the fate of large projects in commercial areas, including Watermark Del Mar, will be on the November ballot. Courtesy rendering
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Voters to decide fate of initiative governing large development

DEL MAR — With limited options council members at the July 5 meeting somewhat reluctantly voted 4-0 to place a citizen-driven initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.

If the measure passes voter approval will be required for any proposed development in a commercial zone that is 25,000 square feet or larger that allows a density bonus or requires a specific plan, a zoning code change or an increase in the building height limit, floor area ratio or lot coverage.

Although the initiative doesn’t specifically target Watermark Del Mar, the multifamily complex slated for the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive prompted its creation.

Nearby residents say they support development on the 2.3-acre vacant lot, currently zoned commercial and used by the Del Mar Fairgrounds for overflow parking.

They oppose a zoning change without voter approval and the size of Watermark, which features 48 units ranging from studios to three-bedrooms in one- and two-story buildings, an underground parking structure, a pool and a small recreation room.

It will include seven affordable units, four of which will be deeded at no cost to a nonprofit benefit corporation selected by the city.

The affordable units will help the city meet the state-approved requirements of its certified housing element.

An opposition group collected more than the required 286 signatures to qualify the initiative for the general election.

Before they were verified by the county registrar of voters late last month, the city on June 6 ordered a report to analyze a variety of issues, including the fiscal impact of the measure, its effect on the city’s general and specific plans, including the housing element, and the city’s ability to attract and retain businesses.

Council also asked for information on the ramifications and consequences for the entire community should the initiative pass, as well as how it would impact Measure B, a voter-approved measure that governs similar developments in the downtown area.

According to that report, prepared by the assistant city attorney and planning manager and presented at the July 5 meeting, the initiative could conflict with state laws, intrude on the city’s administrative authority and impact existing specific plans.

As proposed, the report states, it has the potential to influence the city’s ability to attract and retain business, employment and development in commercial areas and would “significantly delay or prevent the City from complying with its rezoning requirements as outlined within the Housing Element.”

In a letter submitted to the city on behalf of Arnold Wiesel, who is leading the initiative efforts, attorney Everett DeLano disputed the report’s findings, saying the initiative would not conflict with density bonus laws, the Subdivision Map Act, the housing element or adopted specific plans.

DeLano wrote that the assertions are “over-stated and unsupported by a careful review” of the initiative and existing law.

If the state determines Del Mar is not in compliance with its housing element the city could be fined or lose some control over development.

After receiving the report, council members’ options were to adopt the initiative and make it law immediately or let voters decide its fate.

They could also have done nothing but that “invites legal challenges,” the city attorney said.

Councilman Dwight Worden, a land use attorney who specialized in this area of the law, said the city could put a competing measure on the ballot.w

His colleagues said there wasn’t enough time to do that — measures must be ready to go by August — and it could add confusion.

About a half dozen people addressed council in support of the initiative being placed on the ballot.

Council members said they respect the process but they believe the initiative is poorly written and may be deemed invalid by the California Coastal Commission, which will weigh in if it passes.

Worden said if the wording articulated that the people just want to have a say in large developments it would be fairly straightforward, but there are a lot of problems.

“I think that those problems will surface at some point I time,” Worden added. “And in my judgment — and I could be wrong — major portions of this initiative will be invalidated, perhaps the whole thing.”

“I would wish for a much more focused referendum that would really deal with problem that’s been identified, not something that sort of throws everything at the wall and hopes that something will stick, because I’m convinced by all analyses that many parts of this probably will not withstand legal challenge,” Councilman Don Mosier said.

Councilman Al Corti did not participate in the discussion or vote as he lives close to the proposed Watermark development.