Controversial ad hoc committee submits first efforts

DEL MAR — The first efforts of a controversial ad hoc committee formed to address the impact some recent residential construction is having on community character was approved 3-1, with Councilman Terry Sinnott absent, at the Sept. 21 meeting.

Mayor Al Corti said he could not support the work plan submitted by the Development Review Process Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

“I thought that the directive was to identify the concerns, come back to the council and council could establish or give direction to a work plan,” Corti said. “I see that this is already into the work plan without identifying the concerns to the council so I’m not in favor of it.”

Council authorized the formation of the committee in May in an effort to possibly improve the design review process, which about one-third of the 450 respondents to a community survey indicated they were dissatisfied with.

Many residents said the majority of the appointees named to the nine-member group in June were in favor of limiting development in the city by making the design review process stricter.

They unsuccessfully tried to convince the city to rescind the appointments.

Several of the approximately 19 people who applied but were not selected to serve on the committee attended the first six meetings, during which the required first task — creating a work plan — was completed.

According to a summary in the Sept. 21 council staff report, at the first ad hoc meeting committee and community members shared their concerns about the design review process while Councilman Dwight Worden, who serves as a liaison to the group with Councilman Don Mosier, noted them on a chalkboard.

The concerns were organized into topics and presented at the second meeting. At subsequent meetings alternative and revised work plans were presented with more detail in terms of identification of concerns and goals, public outreach and reporting to council.

After public input and committee member discussions, several iterations of the work plan were drafted, with the final version approved 7-0 on Sept. 1.

Vice Chairman Rich Jamison stressed the importance of distinguishing the difference between concerns and problems.

“We will clearly discern between concerns and problems,” he said.

According to the summary, a concern must be elevated to the level of a real and correctable problem before it is reported to council.

To better identify problems, the ad hoc group formed subcommittees to evaluate input from all sources and then report back to the full panel, which will then seek guidance from City Council before proposing solutions.

However, the first concern — Design Review Board procedures and practices — will be addressed by the full committee.

The other areas of concern are the Citizens Participation Program, the design review ordinance, related development ordinances and the zoning code.

Another planned but not established subcommittee will be used to find solutions by researching what other cities have done to address similar problems.

The work plan states the committee’s goals are to uphold the community plan, remain impartial and make the development process easier, less contentious and more objective and open.

A thorough review of all aspects of the development process will be conducted by meeting with the Design Review Board, Planning Commission, city planning staff, the city attorney, architects and developers.

A community workshop will be held to discuss perceived concerns and target specific issues. A sampling of completed projects will be reviewed to identify what worked and what didn’t.

According to the work plan 10 prominent concerns have been identified to date. They include community character being undermined by new residential development that is out of scale and incompatible with Del Mar neighborhoods.

Overly purposed exterior living space and structures that support this are allowed at the expense of mature, drought tolerant landscaping.

There is uncertainty that the DRB has enough tools to apply the design review ordinance or understands how to use the tools it has.

Neighbors and applicants perceive the design review process as too subjective. Applicants see it as too lengthy and neighbors’ expectations as unrealistic, while residents say the process is rushed and deadlines for providing feedback are inadequate.

Some say the Citizen Participation Program is ineffective, is “not conducive to fruitful negotiations” and should reach out to a broader part of the community.

There are concerns by some architects, builders and applicants that the design review rules are too vague and subjective, neighbors have too much power and the process is too strict and difficult and causes conflicts between neighbors.

There is also a perception that some applicants and their representatives are “gaming” the system, and the cost of regulatory approvals is too high.

Committee members will analyze the key concerns to determine whether they should be considered problems by soliciting input from all stakeholders.

The last phase of the work plan includes recommending solutions to council members, who will have the final say on implementation. The committee will provide council with a quarterly report, with a goal to complete the entire process within a year.

“This is a … compromise work plan that I think captures much of the discussion that happened,” Mosier said, noting that although his colleagues gave the group some direction in a resolution, committees in Del Mar have some independence because they are advisory.

He said a concern should rise to the level of a problem when it is shared by many people. Some concerns won’t have solutions and won’t get resolved, he added.

“This is a pretty aggressive work plan and it’s going to take quite a bit of work to accomplish it,” Mosier said. “I’ve been pleased by the openness and willingness to listen to all sides. In contrast to some of the comments that were made early on I think this committee is serving the whole community and will continue to do so.”

Worden said the scope of the work plan is much more detailed than he expected, adding that council members shouldn’t “be nitpicking the details.”

“I think this gets at the guts of what we want to do,” which he said is an outreach program that allows everyone to vent.

Worden said if committee members appear to be “running into the weeds we’ll reel you in, but this all looks good to me right now.”

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