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The Planning Commission tabled the hotel project in May 2017 after residents raised concerns about traffic. Courtesy photo
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Portofino Hotel project looks to return to Planning Commission

ENCINITAS — After nearly 18 months, it appears a proposed renovation of a Coast Highway 101 hotel could be headed to the Planning Commission in the fall. 

The ownership group behind the conversion of the Portofino Beach Inn on Coast Highway 101 into a 44-room upscale boutique hotel has spent the last year revising the plans to address community and planning commission concerns. 

A spokeswoman for the group, 101 Hotel, Inc., said the group is waiting for final feedback from the city, at which time they’ll move forward with selecting a date to return before the Planning Commission.

“It behooves them (the ownership group) to provide a very healthy operation management plan to keep guests and happy and the neighborhood on several levels,” spokeswoman Tammy Temple said. “I think they have done a fantastic job of redesigning the property to create a private experience for hotel guests while creating a barrier from the property to the residents.”

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, the city and applicant decided to take the hearing off the calendar to give the developer more time to redesign the project.

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 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, Temple said, 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. 

“It’s a very small water feature … the experience is very different versus what we had when it was planned on the ground floor,” Temple said. 

Most recently, the ownership group held a citizen participation program meeting on Aug. 1, and received feedback from residents. At least one of the project’s chief critics, Melrose resident Benj Gershman, appeared to be skeptical of the new proposal.

“Changes only evident by careful review of the plans raise issues that must be addressed prior to a hearing with Planning Commission,” Gershman wrote in his letter to the ownership group in August. 

Temple said the city will analyze the residential feedback, answers given by the ownership group and come up with follow-up questions that the developer will answer before the city places the project on the commission agenda. 

“We have really opened ourselves up to trying to be always available to meet with the community, and tried to do all we can to work with the community, take their feedback and address some of the issues as much as we can,” Temple said. “On the developer’s side, it’s been challenging because time is money.”