Planning Commission to continue deliberating luxury hotel

A Planning Commission discussion of a remodel of an older existing Leucadia hotel into a small luxury hotel will continue in June.

The proposed project, by Encinitas-based 101 Hotel, Inc., calls for the demolition of the interior of the existing 45-room Portofino Beach Inn, at 186 North Coast Highway 101, to reconfigure the layout to allow for a 44-room boutique hotel called The Ray with a full-service restaurant, complimentary valet parking for guests, a 600-square-foot lobby and new 8-foot sign on Coast Highway 101.

It would also include indoor and rooftop bars. The outdoor areas, including rooftop bar, would be accessible with keycards for residents and close at 10 p.m. on the weekends and 9 p.m. on weekdays. Under a proposed memorandum of understanding, the hotel could extend those hours by one hour if it proves good behavior for its first nine months of operation.

A pool would also be added, and rooms could cost more than $300 per night.

“This project is a good example of a reuse of an existing site operating as a hotel today,” said Todd Mierau, associate planner for the city.

He said little changes have occurred beyond painting and minor exterior changes to the building since it was built in 1986.

101 Hotel, Inc. purchased the property in 2015 and has since had several meetings with the community and planning staff, said Tammy Scott, who works for the ownership group, at the Planning Commission’s May 18 meeting.

The Planning Commission voted three to one — with Commissioner Al Apuzzo dissenting and Commissioner Bruce Ehlers absent — at its May 18 meeting to continue the discussion to the June 15 meeting to allow the proposers to address parking and traffic concerns.

Apuzzo, who said he supported the design, considered the hotel “something the community badly needs.”

“I don’t want this project to get torn apart and we have to look at the Portofino for another 20 years,” he said.

About 30 residents and business owners spoke at the meeting, with some supporting the project to draw in tourists who don’t want to stay in Encinitas currently due to a lack of luxury options. Others opposed the project because of concerns regarding parking and traffic on residential streets.

Some spoke of the Portofino’s “blighted” exterior, which they considered a haven for drug users and prostitutes.

Justin Masunaga, who owns Hapi Fish near the hotel and supported the redesign, said he has talked with Sheriff’s Department deputies that have come through his restaurant to access the Portofino.

“Their words verbatim are that it’s a meth house with drug users who put their money together to afford a cheap room,” Masunaga said. “They go have their parties all night long and we have to clean up the mess.”

Similarly, Gerry Sova, who owns Captain Keno’s bar and restaurant next door, also supported the new hotel and believed it would be “much better for the community.”

But opposers worried that a new valet parking model would bring extra traffic to Melrose Avenue and the hotel overall would create additional noise. Some also questioned how the size of the parking lot could accommodate all the cars for the hotel’s guests and employees and worried about overflow onto the streets.

“This is not what we’re looking for,” said Daniel Fineman, a lifelong Encinitas resident. “This is not something that the community wants.”

Former Mayor Sheila Cameron urged the city to conduct an Environmental Impact Report to see how the hotel would affect the nearby residential areas. She said she believed the hotel looked like it belonged more in Las Vegas or Palm Springs than in Encinitas.

Planning Commission Chair Glenn O’Grady — the only commissioner who said he could not support the hotel — did not believe it would fit in with Leucadia’s character and thought it would better belong in an “Orange County strip mall.”

“I actually thought of a sad-looking LA or Orange County hotel. That to me doesn’t look Leucadian,” he said. “They aren’t relieving traffic. They’re creating a situation and putting traffic onto Melrose more so than I think they should. ... To me, it’s not a question of whether to upgrade this place. Obviously, we need to, but it’s how, and the current design just doesn’t do it for me. ... I would want to see it incorporate elements that reflect [the character].”

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