Dolores Davies | Crest Road
Del Mar Design Guidelines—Fact & Fiction
The Sandpiper has worked hard to keep Del Mar residents informed of recommendations flowing from the work of the City’s Ad Hoc Development Review Process Citizen’s Advisory Committee – most recently, the draft Design Guidelines currently out for review. Developed by RRM Consultants in collaboration with City Planning staff and the Ad Hoc Committee, the Design Guidelines reflect input from monthly meetings and public workshops held to gather feedback.
Unfortunately, anonymous persons are spreading alarmist, factually incorrect information about the Guidelines. To clarify misconceptions, this writer interviewed Matt Bator, the City’s senior planner, who has guided the Ad Hoc Committee in its efforts to refine and vet the Guidelines with various stakeholders.
Guidelines are Interpretive—Shoulds not Shalls
The Design Guidelines, which are still in draft form, are interpretive in nature, explained Bator. As guidelines, and not regulations, they are intended to provide greater clarity to the standards expressed in the City’s Design Review Ordinance (DRO).
“The purpose of the Guidelines is to give residents, design professionals and members of the Design Review Board (DRB) guidance when determining how the Design Review Ordinance should be interpreted, relative to the goals, objectives and policies of the Community Plan,” said Bator. “They would not be codified regulations or DROs, nor would they expressly prohibit anything—they are “shoulds,” not “shalls.” Of course we want them to be followed, but we also realize that every situation is different, so circumstances will dictate whether a particular guideline is relevant for a project.”
Applicants, neighbors, and other stakeholders were unanimous in their desire for a less subjective design review process, and the purpose of the guidelines is to introduce more objectivity into the process by quantifying key terms, and providing graphic examples to better convey design standards.
“To make standards like excessive bulk and mass and acceptable view blockage more objective, it’s necessary to quantify them,” said Bator, “even if they may not be applicable in every situation. The DRB will have the guidelines to help them in interpreting the DRO in a more objective manner than currently exists for many situations. But, these decision makers will also have the authority to disregard a particular guideline if they deem it does not apply to a project due to a unique circumstance, site constraints, topography, historic considerations, etc.”
No Ban on Basements
Another inaccuracy disseminated about the Guidelines is that they will prohibit basements. But there is no such prohibition in the draft.
“The Guidelines do suggest that careful consideration be given to exposed basements to reduce the appearance of bulk and mass, limit the appearance of apparent building height, and reduce alterations to existing topography when it would be inconsistent with the established character of the neighborhood. This is not the same as saying you can’t build a basement,” said Bator.
Nor would the Guidelines limit all new decks, porches, and trellises to a standard size. Instead, Bator explained, the Guidelines are an attempt to uphold important design principles reflected in the Community Plan and referenced in the DRO.
He added, “The recommendations for decks, porches and trellises are intended to reduce excessive appearance of massing and scale, and ensure that the proportionality of building size to lot size intended by a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limitation is maintained.”
Homes Will Not Become Nonconforming
Another false claim is that the approval of the new Design Guidelines would make some homes “nonconforming,” which would prohibit those homeowners from rebuilding existing homes in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
“Homes become non-conforming relative to the Del Mar Municipal Code when they no longer conform to current development regulations,” explained Bator. “The Design Guidelines are not “regulations.” If a home is damaged beyond the 50% building valuation allowed by Chapter 30.76, regulatory non-conformities need to be addressed. But, the guidelines themselves do not create “nonconforming” situations.”
Positive Impact on Property Values
While some stakeholders were concerned that the Guidelines might negatively impact property values, a review of the data demonstrates that strong design review ordinances and guidelines enhance property values by preserving communities’ distinctive character and environment. The Ad Hoc Committee gathered data on the 23 California cities that boast higher median incomes than Del Mar. The majority of these cities have more restrictive development review processes than Del Mar, and only two—Malibu and Manhattan Beach—do not have a design review-type process but instead have complex zoning regulations.