On February 10, Del Mar won certification by the California Coastal Commission (CCC) of a Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendment to its Land Use Plan to allow multiple dwelling unit residential uses at a density of up to 20 dwelling units/acre as a permitted use within the North Commercial (NC) and Professional Commercial zones. This certification was required for the City’s compliance with its Housing Element and state housing law, so it was a big win for Del Mar.
The CCC staff report acknowledged that both Coastal Act and State housing mandates and goals were implicated in this matter, and in their comments and questions, the commissioners appeared to understand the need to harmonize these potentially conflicting State mandates in evaluating Del Mar’s LCP amendment.
The staff report noted, “No direct impacts to public access, habitat, or visual resources are expected because development proposed on the subject parcels must meet all existing relevant LCP policies relating to parking requirements, scenic view protection and height, and protection of sensitive resources such as wetlands, and coastal and inland bluffs.” However, CCC staff and commissioners focused considerable attention on whether the conditions of approval sufficiently minimized the risks of allowing new residential projects to be located in a floodplain, as all 16 parcels covered by the NC zone are.
The original CCC staff recommendations included conditions of approval that Amanda Lee, Principal Planner for the City, asserted, in her presentation at the hearing, “would have precluded project financing and acted as an impediment to housing.” However, she offered “many thanks” to CCC staff for working closely with Del Mar to negotiate revised conditions to meet Del Mar’s objections and still satisfy the CCC’s concerns about mitigating hazards. These deft negotiations by staff likely avoided the potential that CCC-imposed conditions on the NC approval would be deemed by the state housing agency (HCD) to be impediments to affordable housing, risking Del Mar’s compliance with State housing law.
Interestingly, the fact that short-term rentals are allowed in commercial zones in Del Mar, and thus will be allowed in residential units in NC not designated as affordable units, elicited expressions of concern from three members of the CCC. Commissioner Wilson lamented that with STRs in the mix, “we’re not going to derive a lot of housing from this approach.” These comments signal changes in CCC perspectives on STRs since 2018, when the CCC opposed Del Mar’s proposed LCP amendment restricting STRs in residential zones; at that time, the CCC appeared to view STRs as visitor-serving amenities that served the goals of coastal access, with little concern for the role of STRs in diminishing housing stock, and adding to the State’s housing crisis. This signals the potential for a more nuanced and balanced approach on STRs by the CCC, at a time when Del Mar is planning to revisit its STR policies.