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Portofino hotel project reignites a heated debate

ENCINITAS — A two-year hiatus hasn’t cooled the debate over a proposed renovation of a Coast Highway 101 hotel. 

The proposed Portofino Beach Inn conversion into a luxury hotel returned to the Encinitas Planning Commission on April 18, and neighbors resumed their opposition. 

This time, however, one prominent property owner came armed with an attorney and several experts who disputed the findings in the city staff’s recommendation to approve the project. 

The Planning Commission continued the hearing to May 2 after its marathon meeting reached the midnight cutoff. But two hours of discussion have set the stage for what will likely be a contentious discussion and decision that — one way or another — will likely be appealed to the City Council. 

The Planning Commission tabled the project — which has been in process since January 2015 — in May 2017 after residents raised concerns about traffic that the project would divert onto a residential street that runs parallel to Coast Highway 101.

After pushing the hearing off until June, July and then September 2017, the city and applicant decided to take the hearing off the calendar to give the developer more time to redesign the project.

A spokeswoman for the ownership behind the project, 101 Hotel, Inc., said the group has taken the last two years to make the project responsive to both neighbors and the Planning Commission’s concerns. 

The previous project iteration called for visitors to enter the hotel on Melrose, where a valet service would park cars off-site. 

Neighbors and other opponents argued that increasing traffic along the street violated a document that governs development in the city’s downtown area known as the specific plan, which they said specifically called for less traffic on Melrose.

Since then, the ownership group has addressed nearly 40 of the residents’ and city’s concerns, including reconfiguring the plan to eliminate the valet service and replacing it with a parking operation management plan that designates a bellman to direct a guest to their assigned parking space or park the car for the guest.

Entrance to the property has been restricted to only Coast Highway 101, and an electronically controlled gate in the rear of the property would limit the Melrose access point to cars exiting the hotel, eliminating cut-through traffic on the property that was the cause of many complaints. 

Additionally, the group eliminated the western-facing balconies and the large ground-level pool, replacing it with a smaller, boutique rooftop pool that she said is also shielded so as to limit noise from it to the surrounding community. 

Finally, they reduced the room count from 45 to 35 units, with 10 private suites. 

But on the eve of the hearing, property owner Don McPherson and his attorney Felix Tinkov submitted a massive report, compiled by several hired experts, that they said revealed flaws (or as they called them, violations) in the project and the conclusions drawn in the noise, traffic and parking studies. 

One neighbor, in an email to the group of Melrose Avenue neighbors opposed to the project, referred to the hotel as a “proposed party house/hotel/bar.”

“This will inundate the residential communities east and west of its location with excessive noise, massive parking overflow, and set a precedent for future development along the 101 Corridor to designate nonconforming existing properties with substandard and inadequate facilities for their patrons, and neighbors,” Benjamin Gershman wrote to the group in an email on April 14.

Tinkov at the April 18 meeting outlined the deficiencies: 

  • An acoustical engineer’s report, Tinkov said, drew its sound conclusions by using a 19-foot wall in the simulation that would crest 12 feet above the city’s 30-foot height limit.
  • The parking and traffic estimates did not account for visitors to the hotel’s bar and restaurant areas, which the hotel owners said are not open to the public, Tinkov said. But the hotel was applying for a type of liquor license that requires the use to be open to the public.
  • And the project expands what is currently a legal nonconforming, or “grandfathered” use beyond the limits prescribed by city code, he said.

Tammy Temple, who represents the hotel group, said the group plans to respond to the claims presented by the project opponents at the May 2 meeting. 

 “When we get back, our experts … will have a formal response to the things that Mr. McPherson’s experts claim,” she said. “We have been working with the city for four years now, and the project has been vetted many times in front of engineers, consultants and we have gone above and beyond … to put for a project that was well programmed and something staff could recommend.

“I understand what Mr. Tinkov is doing, but we stand by the fact that we have been thoroughly vetted and under a microscope all these years,” Temple said. 

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1 comment

Timothy May 4, 2019 at 6:39 pm

are they adding rooms, scale, etc or just modernizing the hotel?

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