Commentary: Housing Challenge

Finally after 3 or 4 years  of evasive maneuvering and political posturing by the Council majority, a unanimous vote congratulates themselves that they have approved a 6th cycle housing element proposal that was due in 2021. It appears likely that the  State Housing and Community Development agency will certify our plan by June. Although it feels like a relief to get this long running issue off the Council to-do list, it is important to understand some of the consequences of our dilatory tactics.


  The plan pivots on a low-odds agreement for the fairgrounds to ok 50-60 units on their property. If that does not happen by April 2024, the plan calls for upzoning part of the North Bluff property on Border Avenue. Fifty units will be built on  the Watermark property on Jimmy Durante Blvd instead of the smaller 38 unit plan with public benefits that was scuttled by the Council majority. The upzoning of the North Commercial District did not include the development incentives to make it financially viable to build. A massive “Seaside Ridge” complex is trying to force administrative approval because we were late getting certified—perhaps shifting planning and zoning decisions from Del Mar to the courtroom without Del Mar review.


On a personal note, as an affordable housing advocate member on the Housing Corporation and a member of every housing task force since 1979, I have been embarrassed (ashamed really) every year to see my Del Mar always at the bottom of the regional housing production list with a big fat zero (finally we achieve a “1” two years ago.)


Maybe my concerns will turn out to be ill-founded. But even if we effectuate this plan, we will very soon be faced with new numbers to be achieved in the next housing cycle starting in  2027. The worst case is we will start the kvetching and bitching about those numbers. But I would like to propose a best case.


Why not change the paradigm from resisting state pressure to saying “let us alone and we guarantee we will do way more than our fair share, but we will do it our way.” We are determined to increase our population to six or seven thousand, an audacious goal but  we can do it while preserving our village character by embracing “small” development, more density but smaller living spaces. Singles and couples can be comfortable in 600-880 square units, while families of five can easily live in 1200 square feet. Of course real estate prices will dictate rentals with price control.


We already have higher density neighborhoods that fit quite nicely in our community—think south Stratford, north Coast Highway, the highest density apartment house on Grand Avenue. We could enlist our many design professionals to create architectural styles that harmonize with our small town character. What about  apartment complexes on Border Avenue and across from the Brigantine with 100 foot setbacks from the bluff edge? Small apartments on the Staver property? Security and maintenance studios on city hall and Winston sites? Small duplexes and grannie flats? Units on fairgrounds for fair and track employees? Downtown residential units can stimulate  business activity?


Not only will we achieve our fair share of state objectives, we can energize and enrich our demographic mix.  Our 5,000 population attracted nearby academics and students. Let’s invite them back along with scientists, teachers, cops, business workers, city staffers, retired professionals. Let’s invite a more diverse racial and ethnic population.


I believe we can hold onto local control and community character if we change our attitudes. We are privileged to live in a very special place. We could become a role model for how to share that privilege.