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Zoning change to allow homeless shelters continued in Del Mar

DEL MAR — A proposal that would modify the zoning in the north commercial zone to accommodate the homeless was continued at the Oct. 7 meeting, even though the change will likely be approved when it is presented again Oct. 21. 

Language in the proposed amendment would allow emergency shelters to be built in the north commercial zone — a use that is currently not authorized there — without the need for a conditional use permit.

Although state law uses the term “emergency shelter,” the goal is to accommodate people who are temporarily homeless based on financial circumstances rather than as a result of natural disasters, according to the staff report.

State law, which is very specific on the topic, requires all cities to identify areas in which an emergency shelter is allowed “by right,” or without a requirement for discretionary approvals, such as a conditional use permits.

“The state has put this into practice so that there isn’t the dumping of any one type of housing in any one community,” Planning Director Kathy Garcia said.

The proposed amendment would satisfy the requirement and implement one program in Del Mar’s recently certified housing element, which includes goals, objectives and implementation strategies to promote and accommodate housing for all segments of the community.

The homeless are defined as those in need of temporary or emergency shelter who lack a fixed income and regular nighttime residence. According to data in the city’s 2013-2021 housing element, there are 11 homeless people in the Del Mar area.

Although the city is required to have zoning in place to accommodate an emergency shelter, it is not required to build one, the staff report states.

Due to the lack of vacant parcels in Del Mar and the relatively high cost of property there, it is unlikely that there will be any requests to use land in the north commercial zone for an emergency shelter, the staff report states. To date, the city has not received any applications or inquiries.

Local governments may set parameters for the establishment and operation of emergency shelters. To protect Del Mar’s community character, the proposed amendment would prohibit shelters from being built within 300 feet of a residential building or school and 300 feet from another emergency shelter.

Each facility could have a maximum of 10 beds, and the maximum stay would be six months, with a 60-day waiting period between stays.

The operator would have to prepare an operational plan, subject to approval by the planning director, that includes measures for on-site security.

The Planning Commission reviewed the application at its Sept. 10 meeting and voted to recommend the City Council adopt the proposed amendment, concluding that because of the state mandate, it is a “must do.”

“I strongly oppose this,” resident Sharyn Daly said, speaking on behalf of her neighbors, who were out of town.

“I know that this will affect all of our property values in that area,” she said. “I think we’re opening a door that we may not want to open. Why do we want to allow the homeless to live right next to the single-family (homes) in Del Mar?

“There are many other lots available,” Daly said. “Why not designate land that the city owns?”

“This whole thing is very vague, like a bowl of Jell-O,” resident Tom McCarthy said. “I’m still not clear where the property is we’re talking about.”

Daly and McCarthy mistakenly thought the city was rezoning the vacant lot on the corner of Jimmy Durante Boulevard and San Dieguito Drive.

“There is no one site identified and there is no project,” Garcia said, adding that the only thing proposed is a change in an allowed use.

“There is no plan to build, operate or install any emergency shelters,” she said.

Garcia said the ordinance was based on what other cities have done to meet the state requirement. She said some have less restrictive parameters, such as allowing longer stays, which would be more enticing to nonprofit agencies seeking to build the facilities.

“I’m sensitive to resident concerns,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “But I think these are all hypotheticals.

“Because of the practicalities in Del Mar — that we have limited land available and the land costs are very high — we can comply with our housing element by adopting these kinds of ordinances but the expectation is it’s very unlikely that any of these things would be built,” Mosier said.

Councilwoman Lee Haydu agreed. “No nonprofit’s going to come in and spend that kind of money in Del Mar to build something like that,” she said. “Nonprofits just don’t have that kind of money.”

Council members asked staff to look into whether the 300-foot buffer could be extended to 500 feet and if addressing the issue of temporary structures is appropriate in the ordinance.

Their findings, and a map of the area that would be included in the new zoning, will be presented at the Oct. 21 meeting. Council will likely approve the amendment then since failure to do so could result in decertification of the housing element or legal action.

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