City moves forward with housing plans

DEL MAR — City Council recently opted to possibly reclassify portions of the central and north commercial zones in an effort to meet state-mandated housing requirements. 

After reviewing and prioritizing four alternatives at the Nov. 19 meeting, council members directed staff to look at modifying some or all of the central commercial zone development standards from the current one dwelling unit per parcel to 20 units.

This change would also likely include increasing the floor area ratio to allow more density.

Council also asked staff to analyze rezoning one or more properties throughout the city to a new classification that would allow residential development at 20 units per acre.

The immediate focus, however, would be on two properties in the north commercial zone because a prospective buyer has expressed interest in creating such a zoning change for a potential development.

In October, City Council received a briefing on housing law, state Housing and Community Development requirements and the regional housing needs assessment set by the San Diego Association of Governments.

Since then staff has been preparing a draft housing element for the 2013-20 cycle in an effort to gain state certification.

“We face some challenges because HCD and state law have certain requirements for components of a housing element,” Planning Manager Adam Birnbaum said.

One of those key components is an inventory of sites that could feasibly accommodate future residential development for a wide range of income levels, including low income.

Cities must also prove there aren’t any undue constraints to develop that housing, such as fees, required discretionary approvals, low floor area ratios and Measure B, which limits commercial developments larger than 25,000 square feet until a specific plan is approved.

“You can put the plans on paper but you also need to demonstrate the fact that they can be implemented,” Birnbaum said. “The HCD looks carefully at those components to ensure that you’re not just putting down a paper plan, but something that can actually result in housing within the community for a range of income levels.”

For HCD that means assigning land-use designations with higher densities because that creates greater potential for affordable housing. For small cities such as Del Mar, the minimum density level is 20 units per acre. Larger cities are generally required to have areas that accommodate 30 units.

Del Mar cannot currently accommodate development of 20 units per acre anywhere in the city, so to meet the HCD criteria, an area must be redesignated to allow that density.

The city planned to accommodate increased density as part of the village specific plan to revitalize the downtown area but that proposal failed in the Nov. 6 election.

“We just got off of this whole issue and now we’re getting back in the saddle again and it’s going to be a challenge,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said.

“The hope was if the VSP passed this issue would be gone,” Councilman Mark Filanc said. “We still have this issue before us and we have to address it.

“We need to move forward with it and get ourselves on track with getting certification,” he added.

“This isn’t a final determination but rather an identification of areas where we should pursue — and this will likely involve public workshops — ideas of assigning a designation that’s going to meet our obligation under state law and help us achieve certification of our housing element,” Birnbaum said.

The city has until August 2013 to achieve a certified housing element. But the document will likely go back and forth with HCD in that timeframe, Birnbaum said.

“In our prior community conversations there was support for low-income housing, particularly for seniors in town that didn’t want to try to maintain a single-family home,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “We do have a surprisingly large fraction of our community who fits in the low-income range.

“I think we also found out there’s a resistance to any form of change and this is going to take a major outreach effort to explain the need to comply with state law,” he said. “I’d like to think that this is an inclusive community and that we like to take care of our residents who are in need.”

“We have to get over the not-in-my-backyard problem,” Mayor Carl Hilliard said.

Staff is including possible housing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but that will require a longer process. Birnbaum said there are doubts it will receive approval before the certification deadline.

Areas zoned for public facilities, such as the library or City Hall, were also presented for possible development standard modifications but council members said they doubted that would receive public approval.

If more housing units are needed, a third alternative would be to modify allowable uses in other areas of the north commercial zone.

The draft housing element will be reviewed by the Planning Commission beginning at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5.



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