Del Mar real estate is once again churning and, in the process, earning the City more property tax dollars. While this is good news, it creates an increased burden on what is arguably Del Mar’s most important citizen’s committee, the Design Review Board (DRB). While in the years following the economic meltdown the DRB agendas were relatively light, they have now returned to the “glory days” with upwards of 10 or more projects to review at each month’s board meeting. Many of these projects propose scraping existing houses and replacing them with dream homes (or 2nd homes) for the new owners. While there’s nothing wrong with that, problems can and do arise when new project proposals represent unwelcome impacts on neighbors and on the charm and character of our community that brought us here in the first place.
Del Mar has a specific set of Design Review Ordinances to make sure that new development reasonably fits the scale and character of the City. The DRB is charged with upholding these ordinances. While this may sound simple, there is inevitably room for interpretation as a basis for disagreement about issues such as impact, reasonableness, and community character. As property values escalate, and higher prices drive ever more ambitious projects, the nature of such development becomes increasingly impactful for Del Mar’s future.
Of late we have seen several development applications return to the DRB for three or more monthly meetings, each time with small incremental changes trying to gain project approval. This is a wasteful and time-consuming process that reflects a “cat and mouse” strategy typically wearing down the board until they finally approve. Not only does this increase the DRB load and the waiting time for new applications, but by allowing this to happen, the board weakens its own authority. The additional fact that currently there is a vacancy on the seven-member board creates the possibility of a tie vote on approval or denial of a project, and makes these exhausting iterations more probable.
This is a critical time for the Design Review process, and we need a full board of seven members, who will serve together to preserve and protect the cherished character of Del Mar. We greatly appreciate the people who volunteer the considerable time that it takes to make this process work -- as much as we appreciate the result of the hard work of the DRB over the years, that has given us such a beautiful place to live. If you want to help Del Mar, fill the vacancy on the DRB and have our community values firmly in mind.