The Coast News Group
An Encinitas property owner has filed a lawsuit against the recently approved hotel renovation of the Portofino Beach Inn over alleged violations under the California Environmental Quality Act, including concerns about noise, parking, traffic and fire safety issues. Courtesy photo

Council denies appeal and votes to move Portofino hotel project forward

ENCINITAS — A hotly debated hotel renovation that’s been in the works for years in Encinitas — the proposed Portofino Beach Inn conversion into a luxury hotel — got approval from City Council last week to move forward as planned.

In unanimously approving the project, the council rejected an opponent’s appeal of the city Planning Commission decision to approve the project.

The revamped boutique hotel, to be called The Ray, will include 35 rooms and valet parking, and will add alcohol service with a hotel bar, a roof deck pool and bar area and a restaurant.

The project was appealed by neighboring property owner Don McPherson, who cited seven concerns he had including that the project costs exceed 50% of building value, it violates fire code and the Alcohol Beverage Control Act, and there are traffic and noise issues, all of which staff addressed. The project has also been contested by a number of residents since it was first proposed four years ago.

“It’s always unfortunate when there’s a division in the community and even after many years and multiple efforts there wasn’t an ability to find a project that everybody could agree to,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said before the vote. “But I think that is unfortunately common. It seems to me that The Ray does comply with the applicable regulations and that it will be a community enhancing project.”

The council approved the project, but discussed conditions, brought forth by Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze, whose mom and two best friends live near the project area, that would help manage the noise levels. First, they discussed whether the hotel’s owners must hold annual public meetings for the first five years after it opens to address neighbors’ concerns about rooftop noise and roadway traffic congestion, should there be any. They also discussed whether the hotel would need to install decibel-reading equipment in a rooftop entertaining area to monitor sound levels.

The project was first proposed in 2015 and has gone through a number of meetings and hearings to get it to this point. In May 2017, the original project design was brought before the Planning Commission. They received public testimony, deliberated, and voted to continue the item off-calendar to allow the applicant to return with additional information regarding valet parking operations and more details in the traffic study. In response to the Planning Commission’s concerns, the applicant redesigned the project to reduce the room count from 45 to 35 units, with 10 loft units, and modified the existing three-story elements of the project. They also added a roof deck with a pool and bar to the design. Two years later, at a meeting in May of this year, the Planning Commission voted 3-1-1 to approve the project. Commissioner Bruce Ehlers voted no based on concerns that the roof deck structure created a third story, which is a violation of Proposition A. Commissioner Al Apuzzo was absent.

Eleven speakers addressed the council at its Sept.18 meeting — six in favor of the council denying the appeal and approving the project, and five against. Another 30 people present at the meeting filled out cards to support the project but chose not to speak and another five more in attendance filled out cards against the project. But opted to not speak.

“Maybe the City Council doesn’t really hate us in Leucadia, maybe you just don’t care,” one opposer stated. “Either way the result’s the same. Our beautiful little village is being systematically ruined. Most of us don’t even come to council meetings anymore because it’s clear that you’re not responding to our input. But you still could stop this. You’ve heard today about the added traffic; you’ve heard about the added noise and you don’t have to grant this permit. It would be one step in the right direction.”

Leucadia resident John Resnick, owner of two restaurants in Carlsbad Village —  Campfire and Jeune et Jolie — said he fully supported the new hotel and couldn’t wait to bring his family from the East Coast out to enjoy it once it’s built.

“I love this community, I love hotels and what they can do for a community,” Resnick said. “I’m excited to see what these folks have spent four years working on and what they’re going to provide to our community.”

Editors Note: An original version of this story stated that the hotels owners must install decibel-reading equipment and hold annual meetings. This was only discussed. The Coast News regrets the error.