Costa Azul hotel, restaurant complex approved for Carmel Valley

The new Costa Azul project in Carmel Valley includes a pedestrian linkage.

Costa Azul, a new hotel, office and restaurant project in Carmel Valley was approved by the San Diego Planning Commission on July 22. As an added benefit to the community, the project offers a public trail and small park.

The new mixed-use development will include a seven-story Element by Westin hotel and a five-story office building with space for two restaurants on the corner of El Camino Real at the end of Valley Centre Drive.

The Costa Azul site is on an El Camino Real corner that already houses several hotels, including Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, San Diego Marriott Del Mar and the future 127-room, five-story Hyatt Place Hotel next door filling the space left vacant by Tio Leo’s Mexican restaurant.

“We’ve been at this for quite some time,” said developer Hunter Oliver of the project first proposed in 2014 and unanimously approved by the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board in 2018. Architect Darrel Fullbright said they listened “intensely” to community feedback, incorporating ideas to improve the architectural design and provide more community benefits.

The developers had planned to be before the planning commission for approval last October, however, it was delayed.

The planning commission approved a height variance for the project as the maximum height in the area is 60 feet and 14% of the project is above the height limit. A terracing effect was used to break up the height and staff found that the height is consistent with the heights of the surrounding buildings, including the 12-story Marriott.

The eight-foot-wide pedestrian promenade will connect walkers, runners and cyclists around the project from Valley Centre Road. The pathway will continue down to connect with Old El Camino Real and Carmel Valley Road as it heads toward Torrey Pines State Beach.

The office building will have a rooftop amenity that will be open to the public for events and the restaurants aim to keep users on site. With Tio Leo’s gone, Taco Bell is the only restaurant serving the immediate area: “That end of Carmel Valley really needs it,” said Remington Diaz during public comment.

Commissioners questioned the project’s overpass easement as Costa Azul was designed to accommodate Caltrans’ flyover ramps that will link SR-56 with Interstate 5. The connector project is decades in the making and is currently not funded for final design or construction: “I’m not sure it will be built in my lifetime,” Oliver said.

Prior to the hearing, the commissioners received “robust” public comment in opposition to the project, about 400 pages worth, citing the need for a full environmental impact report on the project due to potential impacts on traffic and air quality. During public comment, there were also questions about whether office use was allowed in the commercial-visitor zone.

Commissioner Douglas Austin said the opposition seemed like a “weaponizing of CEQA” and disingenuous given the project has been in development for several years and the questions were raised just days before the hearing.

“I find these objections petty and beyond disingenuous,” agreed Vice Chair James Whalen. “This is the oldest part of Carmel Valley and it’s wonderful what they’ve done here.”

“I think this is going to be a nice addition to the area,” Austin said, adding that the developer had to have been doing something right to get a 10-0 vote from the planning board.