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Fallbrook develops design standards to maintain community character

Avalon Hester

Village News Intern

There's a big ticket item on the agenda for Fallbrook citizens. Since 1989, Fallbrook's rural small town charm has been maintained through a set of aesthetic and practical building ideals known as the Design Review Guidelines. With increasing state and county level decisions being implemented in Fallbrook, community leaders are arguing that it is essential to establish clear and easy-to-understand standards in a checklist for developers, thus ensuring that new builds continue to meet community expectations.

The Design Review Guidelines have been used for the past 34 years to ensure that new projects and developments coming into Fallbrook fit within the community look and lifestyle – maintaining fire safe building materials, native landscaping, back-of-building parking, and other carefully considered hallmarks of Fallbrook's character.

Everything from new buildings to new signage has been subject to Design Review approval, a process that begins with a full site map for larger projects, and a smaller build plan for smaller projects like new signage. These guidelines have always been important for defining Fallbrook, but they've also been subjective and decided largely by community interpretation.

Currently, a California State decision has mandated that buildings such as low-barrier shelters, buildings with at least 10% low-income housing, and other supportive structures, would be able to go into appropriately zoned areas by right.

Eileen Delaney, Stephani Baxter, and Jeniene Domercq of the Fallbrook Community Planning Group emphasized that since Fallbrook won't have control over whether or not these structures come into our communities, it's important that we can still determine how.

As an unincorporated community, Fallbrook's local control has often been under threat of erosion by state and county level decisions. The concern is that larger areas with less space seeking to meet funding targets for shelters and low income housing will send these projects to rural areas like Fallbrook without ensuring that they have the services to support the people who need them.

"The county of San Diego recently qualified for the Prohousing Designation," explained Baxter. This program provides incentives to cities and counties that provide competitive housing and infrastructure projects with the goal of helping end homelessness.

"We want to make sure that we're helping locals in need, and that we have the services to help," responded Domercq, "without public transportation and other services, Fallbrook will be a difficult place by nature [for these projects]."

Design Standards have proposed that emergency housing projects must be built at least 1,000 feet from schools and within the height of 35 feet that is standard throughout the Fallbrook community, against county stipulations that they can be built at 65 feet. However, this isn't the only case where these standards will be doing the heavy lifting for Fallbrook's preferences.

"Everyone wants to maintain community character," Delaney emphasized. "We can be more restrictive in our standards but not less than the county," said Domercq. "Our biggest tools are our zoning, when we can, but even more importantly, the design standards," finished Delaney.

The Fallbrook Planning Group is confident that transforming the current design guidelines into easy to understand design standards, will help cement citizen control. "If you've never paid attention to what's going on, now's your time. Make your voice heard," urged Delaney. "And believe that you can make a difference, if you're engaged," said Domercq.

The planning group encourages citizens to seek out planning group meetings, infrastructure subcommittee meetings, and all other opportunities to give input on the Design Review Standards. The county frequently holds digital meetings, in person booths at events like the Harvest Faire, and other opportunities for creative engagement.

The Planning Group emphasized the county support they've had in developing these standards with the community, and in the words of Delaney, "These Design Standards are our future."


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