March 2012 home page

New Life Downtown
Kathy Garcia | City of Del Mar, Planning and Community Development Director


New retail, office and residential space could infill along
Camino del Mar.  Courtesy City of Del Mar


Envelope shows maximum dimensions and setbacks
minus FAR limitations. Image courtesy City of Del Mar


We asked Del Mar Planning Director Kathy Garcia to answer your questions about the Village Specific Plan process:

What is revitalization?
Literally, revitalization means “to renew; to give new life or energy to somebody or something.” It’s a term that has often been associated with the Del Mar Village and often conjures up different things to different people:

• To a business owner, it may mean improvements that will bring more patrons to her establishment;
• To a resident, it may mean bringing more local-serving retail;
• To a local family, it may mean new shops and restaurants to patronize;
• To some, it may mean more revenue for needed public improvements;
• To a visitor, it may mean more reason to visit Del Mar;
• To a property owner, it may mean an opportunity to rebuild;
• To one Del Marian, it may mean a way to spruce up downtown to raise overall values; while to another Del Marian it may mean a way to implement the goals of the Community Plan.

Del Mar has a beautiful village, but it is slowly changing, and not all for the better. I like to think of it as an occasion to solve some of the problems facing the Village and create opportunities to attract the community desired uses in a physical form that bests supports the community goals.

Why does our downtown need to revitalize?
Some of the problems we see are continued congestion on Camino del Mar; the lack of a safe and enjoyable pedestrian environment; the decline in retail shops especially those serving our residents; commercial properties that are not at the same quality as our residential neighborhoods; the need for better parking; and the need for more energy efficient buildings. Many of these issues have been brought up over the years. We want our Village commercial areas to stay competitive and prosperous, as that contributes to Del Mar’s overall economic health, value and quality of life.

What are we voting on in November?
We are not voting on “revitalization” per se; we are voting on one set of tools to kick-start the process of revitalization. That set of tools we’re using is a Specific Plan, and we’re preparing the Village Specific Plan. In California, a Specific Plan is akin to the zoning code for a particular area. Zoning codes are used by every city to stipulate what uses may occur and how they may occur. Zoning is also used to prevent new development from interfering with existing residents and to preserve community character. The Specific Plan will regulate the building height, lot coverage, and other characteristics. Our Community Plan called for a Specific Plan for the Village back in 1976.

Why not just change our zoning code?
A Specific Plan is a more comprehensive approach. A change to our zoning code will only affect future development on private properties, when and if that development occurs. The Specific Plan also looks at implementation and associated improvements on the public properties, including our streets. One of the critiques of the Form-Based Code efforts was that it did not look at downtown comprehensively and did not address implementation. The Village Specific Plan is doing just that.

You bring up Form Based Code, isn’t that what we are being asked to vote on?
City Council elected not to pursue the Form Based Code, which is a type of zoning code. We are preparing a Specific Plan for all of downtown. It is a similar process to that done for the Garden Del Mar Project a few years ago and the Hotel and Del Mar Plaza many years ago. However, this Specific Plan process is a bit different than what Del Mar has experienced in the past. The Village Specific Plan is programmatic. There are no specific development proposals such as there was at the Garden, Hotel and Plaza. So we won’t be seeing any proposals for individual buildings like we did in the Garden project. In California, many Specific Plans are actually prepared at the programmatic level prior to any one particular development proposal. This gives the citizens the ability to shape the Plan and be ready when a property wishes to redevelop.

Won’t the new Specific Plan just be the old Form Based Code recommendations?
No, the Specific Plan will have regulatory language, land use controls, incentives for exceptional public benefit and requirements for building form. FBC did not propose incentives, floor area ratios, or land use controls.

What is the new Specific Plan recommending?
The Specific Plan articulates a vision and goals for the Village, recommendations for the public realm as well as the private properties, and a financing plan and implementation program. The recommendations allow new land uses within the Village, in particular multi-family residential and new retail, restaurant and personal services to better round out the mix of uses. It maintains our public facilities. It changes the zoning to allow additional floor area as both a baseline and as an incentive to provide exceptional public benefit. It allows new second floors along the west side of Camino del Mar (26 feet) but that is dependent upon Design Review Board approvals and the protection of neighborhood views. The plan also controls where the buildings can be built on the parcels, making sure they are separated from the adjacent residential. In the public realm it is looking to solve some of our traffic problems with a redesign of Camino del Mar to have roundabouts, expanding the areas for the pedestrian and for public parking.

This looks great for the property owner, but what is in this for the resident?
There is something for everyone. The Plan has guidelines to control the interface with the residential properties. As a result of revitalization, residents get an improved Village with better quality buildings. Parking is increased and managed. There are better sidewalks for walking, and more destinations to walk to in the Village. According to the Urban Land Institute, these can improve residential property values as well as the commercial values.

What happens to the DRB?
The Specific Plan is recommending that our DRB process is maintained with the review authority it currently employs. The Plan will not “streamline” the process for downtown development applications. This is different from the proposals of the Form Based Code committee. Projects will still have to be reviewed by the DRB for potential view blockage and how they meet the design parameters outlined in the Specific Plan. The DRB will just have better tools to assess the commercial projects with the Specific Plan.

Why is this going to a vote?
Measure B requires a vote and the City Council wants the community to voice their opinion.

When will this all happen?
The planning phases are underway now. The first draft of the Specific Plan will be available for community review and comment on March 19, 2012. This will go through an entire process of community input and is anticipated to be finalized and adopted by City Council with the revisions on August 6, 2012. The vote is scheduled for November 6, 2012. That is the planning process. But implementation will take place over the next five to twenty years as public funds are allotted and private property owners redevelop. It will take time, but that is why the planning is done now.


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