DEL MAR — Nearly a year after a citizen-led referendum petition was successfully filed against a city ordinance increasing housing density for parcels in the North Commerical Zone, members of the Del Mar City Council and a resident group have signed an agreement to withdraw the referendum.
The referendum’s withdrawal means the City of Del Mar’s previous Housing Element (5th Cycle) is now completed, setting up the city to submit its latest Housing Element (6th Cycle) to the state later this year.
Ordinance 973 was passed last year and increased housing density to 20 housing units per acre for 16 parcels off Jimmy Durante Boulevard. The ordinance passed with a slim 3-2 vote.
The up-zone would have allowed higher-density multifamily residential development — including lower-income units to meet state-mandated affordable housing targets — on land currently vacant or occupied by commercial buildings, as previously reported by The Coast News.
Soon after, Del Mar resident Arnold Wiesel began a petition to overturn the ordinance and quickly gathered enough signatures to call a voter referendum.
Mayor Terry Gaasterland, a referendum proponent, told The Coast News the petition gave the council time to find a way to implement the ordinance that would be agreeable to all Del Mar residents.
“We were able to hit the pause button and say, is there a way we can restrict the impacts of the change and put guardrails in so that this zone change is lessened,” Gaasterland said.
As part of the agreement, the council committed to considering what it will take to restrict the conversion of rental units to condos that have been built by-right in the city. Similarly, the agreement includes commitments from the council to consider an ordinance preventing high-density rental units, built by-right, from becoming short-term rentals.
A key part of the agreement for residents who live on or near Oribia Road and San Dieguito Drive is fire safety.
“We’ve already had the first wildfire safety meeting and this referendum withdrawal guarantees that within six months the city will have a wildfire evacuation plan for that area where they have a bottleneck through Jimmy Durante Boulevard,” Gaasterland said.
The referendum has not been discussed in a public meeting since April and during that time, Gaasterland said city officials, including herself, have met with residents across Del Mar who signed the petition.
“That’s why it took so long. We really had to check in with everybody,” Gaasterland said.
If the referendum went to a vote, the city said the election would have cost between $100,000 and $175,000, based on estimates from the San Diego County Registrar of Voters.
The ordinance was also the final component of the city’s previous housing cycle, which can now be deemed complete.
In December, the City Council will be voting on revisions from the California Department of Housing and Community Development for its latest Housing Element.
“Our 6th cycle Housing Element was built on the assumption that the 5th cycle housing element would stand,” Gaasterland said. “So had the referendum gone to a vote and had the north commercial been reversed, then we as a city would have had to find an alternative within six months. And that alternative would have been implemented with a penalty.”
According to Gaasterland, if the ordinance had been reversed, the city would have had to find an alternative that would allow for 20-25 housing units per acre.
“We avoided that slippery slope of penalties by going ahead and doing what it took to make it OK to withdraw this referendum,” Gaasterland said.