Del Mar has successfully utilized its developmental controls to maintain its distinctive environmental qualities and village character. Proposed developments are reviewed in terms of their conformity to the Del Mar Community Plan, design ordinance and zoning regulations. Most development proposals are routinely approved, sometimes with minor conditions.
On occasion, applicants seek concessions from policies and regulations claiming a special circumstance of one kind or another. Such requests can generate considerable confusion and differences of opinion among public officials, appointed board members and citizen groups.
Case in point:
In his application to improve and use the building at 1431 Camino Del Mar as a medical center, Dr. Paul Chasan, a local surgeon, requested relief from the City’s Horizontal Zoning Regulations. The Regulations restrict first floor building spaces along Camino Del Mar to uses that not only protect and enhance a pedestrian environment in the downtown area but also protect retail sales and the sales tax revenue they generate for the City.
After a single City Council hearing, Dr. Chasan was granted his request to use the building for his Surgery Center, a non-retail use, in exchange for agreeing to provide public benefits by connecting the seating area of the adjoining Starbuck’s with a new seating area on his property. Enhanced pedestrian access and much needed additional public seating were judged by the City Council to be valuable public benefits in exchange for the zoning waiver: a win for both Dr Chasan and the City.
During construction of the project Dr. Chasan encountered challenges in meeting fire codes that altered some of the project’s landscape area. He evidently thought it was okay to make changes to the approved project that altered or eliminated elements that were conditions for approval. Unfortunately, with these changes the win-win turned into a win-lose with the community on the losing end.
On April 11, Dr. Chasan found himself defending to the Council and the community what he believed were valid substitutions for what was originally approved. Although the decision is continued to May 9 due to last minute plan changes, Dr. Chasan ran into strong community opposition to his request for approval of modifications without the public benefits upon which the original approval was based.
This should be no surprise for any applicant seeking concessions from Del Mar’s planning and development requirements. Once approved it is expected that the applicant will proceed to build the project according to the originally approved plans, especially when concessions were granted in exchange for the implementation of public benefits.
This give and take process has served the City well and is most visible in the unique small village quality of life that is becoming rare in such dense urban environments like San Diego. We can assume that is one reason Dr. Chasan chose to invest in placing his center in our community. And the community needs to hold firm on obtaining the valuable public benefits promised.