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Del Mar takes first step for a specific plan

DEL MAR — City Council authorized staff at the July 25 meeting to prepare a specific plan for the downtown village area, 35 years after the planning tool was recommended.
A specific plan is a government-regulated set of development standards that apply to a particular geographical area. It allows flexibility to create new zoning standards appropriate to those sites.
In Del Mar it is considered a key element to the ongoing revitalization process.
Currently, the same zoning codes apply to every building in the downtown area using a one-size-fits-all formula. More often than not, making improvements prove too costly for property owners.
With an approved specific plan, different codes could be applied to individual properties, which often have unique conditions, giving owners an incentive to upgrade buildings.
When the Del Mar community plan was adopted in 1976 and amended in 1985, a specific plan was recommended for the village center, which was recognized as an area that couldn’t be planned through conventional zoning procedures.
A specific plan is also a requirement of Measure B, a voter-approved initiative that governs commercial developments larger than 25,000 square feet. It was used for the L’Auberge and Del Mar Plaza projects.
In 1976 the plan area was slated for 10th to 17th Street and 300 feet east and west of Camino del Mar. In 1985 it was expanded south to Eighth Street and included the Shores site, professional commercial on Eighth and residential commercial on Stratford Court.
Current plans start at Ninth Street, considered the southern gateway to the city, continue north along Camino del Mar and include the specific plans for Del Mar Plaza, L’Auberge and Garden Del Mar, a proposed mixed-use project approved in 2008 at the corner of Camino del Mar and 10th Street.
“However, the intent is not to change those specific plans,” Planning Director Kathy Garcia said, adding that the government code requires they remain in effect unless amended.
Garcia said those specific plan developments are being incorporated for parking and shared amenities.
The updated plan area also includes the post office, library and City Hall. It excludes the Shores site because the city has future plans for that lot, and professional and residential commercial, because those areas are both seen as functioning in their intent, Garcia said.
The post office is included because there’s a possibility it may someday no longer fall under federal ownership.
If adopted, the specific plan will not preclude the City Hall master plan process. It will also allow parking to be addressed comprehensively, Garcia said.
The Planning Commission supported moving the process forward as long as existing specific plans are preserved and incentives and regulations are developed to create an environment that’s best for the community.
There was concern about reducing the number of lanes on Camino del Mar, parking and neighborhood protection. The commission also wanted assurances that “Del Mar characteristics” and the public facilities zone would be preserved.
No one addressed council during the public comment period; however, Ralph Peck sent an e-mail stating that property owners should have an opportunity to weigh in on whether they support the plan.
The city has had several studies conducted over the years, all of which were used when considering the use of a specific plan to help with downtown revitalization, Garcia said.
Garcia said her department considered a variety of alternatives, including doing nothing at all, but that gave owners no incentive to upgrade and was contrary to the goal of creating a pedestrian village.
Garcia said simply increasing the floor-area ratio, which controls the size of a building on a lot, would only focus on one development tool.
Creating an overlay zone would likely result in a more confusing set of regulations and again provide no motivation for improvements.
“The specific plan is obviously the appropriate and proper way to go,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said. “The reason we didn’t adopt a specific plan at the outset was because of the expense involved.
“But we’ve moved forward now to the point where it’s time to select that as the appropriate vehicle to revitalize the downtown,” he said.