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City’s draft housing plan is off to HCD

DEL MAR — With only two objections at the Jan. 14 meeting, City Council moved its housing element another step forward, agreeing to send the draft document to the state Department of Housing and Community Development for a required preliminary review. 

California law mandates that cities update their housing plans to show they can accommodate their allocated share of the region’s housing needs.

Because Del Mar didn’t receive certification during the last cycle, from 2005-2010, it was penalized with having to designate 10 additional units for the current cycle, from 2013-2020.

It must now show it can provide a total of 71 units, 22 of which must be in the very low- or low-income category.

The law doesn’t require the units be built. Market forces generally determine whether that occurs. But land-use designations and the development review process must demonstrate realistic opportunities to build the new units.

The state indicator that affordable units can be built is a zoning density that will allow 20 units per acre.

A lack of areas designated to accommodate that type of density was one reason HCD didn’t certify the city’s last housing element.

In its latest draft, the city has listed 58 programs that show it can achieve its housing goals. Some, such as a rental subsidy program, already exist. Others are existing programs that are being modified.

And this time around the city has listed three areas where higher density could occur: the professional commercial, public facilities and north commercial zones. In the latter, a prospective buyer has expressed interest in a higher-density designation on two sites.

That didn’t sit well with residents Arnold and Annette Wiesel, who said the history of what is known as the Jefferson lot, indicates increased density is inappropriate because the area is environmentally sensitive.

“It should be excluded from the recommendation,” Arnold Wiesel said.

But council members opted to leave it in the draft document that will be submitted.

In response to other community concerns – and there were several when the first document was presented months ago — the Planning Commission previously eliminated another area – the central commercial zone – where increased density had been proposed.

A second-dwelling unit program has been in place in Del Mar for more than a decade but it has never been used. So the draft plan also includes increased incentives for second dwelling units such as a 550-square-foot floor area ratio exemption and the allowance of a rear-yard setback encroachment.

The Planning Commission also recommended, and council agreed, that additional opportunities for condominium conversions be pursued but accompanied by new mitigation measures to help renters who would be displaced.

“You have a very good shot at getting certification,” said Veronica Tam, a consultant who was hired to help the city craft its housing plan.

Tam said she has helped write 100 housing elements and only one was not certified. “I would say this is a very good attempt, a very strong attempt,” she added.

Tam also said the laws have changed since the last cycle. She said a “damaged party” is no longer a requirement for litigation if a city doesn’t have a certified plan.

“In the event that you do not have a certified housing element and you are sued, most likely you would not be able to defend yourself,” she said. The state can withhold a city’s ability to issue any building permits, something that has happened twice.

Resident Bud Emerson said the proposal to spread affordable units throughout the city rather than try to build one complex “enables us to get a much richer socioeconomic mix in our town.”

“I think this is going to enhance our community,” he said. “Let’s do it because it will make our community more vibrant.”

The city must have a certified plan by April 27. HCD is expected to take about 90 days to review the draft before sending it back, with recommendations, to City Council for final approval and resubmittal.