Lee Haydu | DRB Chair
How did Del Mar achieve its status as one of the most desirable communities in the region? How did Del Mar move to the top of the list of homes with the highest dollar value per square foot?
The answer lies in a cumulative series of decisions, some strategic and many tactical, made over the last 40 years. Strategically, the voters adopted a Community Plan in the 70’s which stated clearly that we wanted to preserve our small town way of life and protect our natural environment. The next big strategic decisions were made by the City Council in passing a series of implementing ordinances to create planning, zoning, and review tools. Chief among these tools were the zoning rules and the design review criteria along with the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board to review specific cases.
These tools are what many businesses call the “quality control” (QC) mechanisms to ensure good products and services. In our case, the product is the village community we all cherish. Without them we could easily have devolved into the overbuilt neighborhoods we see in San Diego and other cities which do not have such a QC process.
Over these forty plus years we have used these QC tools to make a cumulative series of tactical decisions to keep us on track with the vision outlined in our Community Plan. Most specifically, every new house or significant remodel undergoes a review by our Design Review Board (DRB)made up of appointed volunteers.
I believe this design review process provides the most responsive answer to the questions posed in the first paragraph. As a member of the DRB for some time. I see how carefully its members are in trying to balance individual property rights with the interests of neighbors. Yes, it can be a demanding process for individual homeowners, but preserving neighborhood character and cherished views usually achieves a fair outcome. Despite some criticism in a few cases, the fact is the overwhelming majority of cases go through the process in one hearing. Very few cases get appealed to the City Council and it is rare that the Council overturns a DRB decision.
The process works. And we all benefit from the cumulative impact we see in the overall character and value of the community as a whole.
Current Council and Form Based Code Committee are working on plans to fast track downtown commercial development by eliminating or weakening design review processes. It is difficult to understand why businesses should be exempt from processes that have worked in residential areas to our benefit. Commercial buildings have the same potential to alter neighborhoods and block views as residential buildings. We should be careful about throwing out a process that has worked successfully for more than 40 years.
Editor’s note. This is a first in a series of Design Review Ordinance articles which will examine how this process has shaped our neighborhoods and community. We will describe individual stories of how owners and neighbors have benefited from the process. Please let us know if you have a story that would interest readers.