Don Mosier | DRB Member, 2002-2006
One impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to force the City Council, the Design Review Board (DRB) and the Planning Commission to meet by video conferencing instead of in person. The DRB is mandated to review complete project applications within 60 days of receipt, so it can’t delay review until social distancing restrictions are lifted. This means that the review process goes on with some significant changes:
1. Public comments must be submitted as red dot letters or emails by 3:30 pm on the day of the DRB meeting. This means that the public cannot comment on the presentation by the applicant or any last many changes to the project, nor can they amplify on any concerns raised in their red dot comments. Red dot letters can be read into the record if they are limited to 500 words, but longer letters are only available to DRB members, so the public is not fully aware of concerns about the project. Some of these problems are lessened by the City’s decision to allow telephone participation in meetings beginning July 1st, but any public comments have to be scheduled by noon the day of the meeting, so no spontaneous reactions will be heard.
2. Social distancing recommendations have restricted the ability of DRB members to enter neighboring houses to evaluate view and privacy impacts. This leads to a conundrum evident in a recent project hearing; DRB members can accept neighbor’s complaints about view impacts without confirming them from the primary living area (the Design Review Ordinance standard), or they can continue the project approval until a later meeting in the hope that they can enter the residence in question.
3. The current review procedure appears to be tilted in favor of the applicant. In the past, project opponents could comment after the proposal was presented, and the owner/developer could offer rebuttals or minor project tweaks to seek project approval. The Citizen Participation Program (CPP) that requires neighborhood input before designs are finalized is also impacted by COVID-19 safety guidelines. The hope was that the CPP process would result in projects that would come to the DRB with support from the neighbors. Instead, some recent projects have entirely ignored CPP feedback.
Can these problems be fixed? I have two suggestions: have the Planning Department accept video recordings from neighbors that show view impacts from both inside and outside perspectives (the latter subject to DRB confirmation); and, open up DRB hearings for neighbors to participate by teleconferencing. If the Del Mar Fair board (on which I serve) can take public comments by Zoom, why can’t the City of Del Mar?