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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
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Debate continues over what to do with Portofino Beach Inn

The debate that has raged for nearly four years over a proposed conversion of a hotel on Coast Highway 101 into a luxury amenity has finally reached the City Council, but the council won’t hear it until September.

The council was scheduled to hear an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the proposed Portofino Beach Inn conversion into a luxury hotel, which a group of neighbors has vehemently opposed.

But City Clerk Kathy Hollywood announced that the appeal was being continued until Sept. 18.

A divided Planning Commission approved the 101 Hotel, Inc. ownership group’s proposal 3-1-1 on May 16, siding with the applicant, which had spent nearly two years after the commission tabled the project in 2017 trying to address the community’s concerns.

The project has been in the process since January 2015, and reached the Planning Commission in May 2017, when the commission voted to take it off calendar.

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 addressed nearly 40 of the residents and city 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 an April 18 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.

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.

After two continuances, the majority of the commission approved the project with added conditions that any changes to the hours of the restaurants, bars, pools, spa area, fire pit and lobby area and any other changes of the project conditions would have to go back before the Planning Commission; reservations would be required for the restaurant area on the rooftop deck, which would be limited to 75 patrons; and that the loading and deliveries would be limited to the hours from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

But McPherson filed an appeal on May 28, challenging the Planning Commission’s findings.