New hotel, office building approved for Carmel Valley

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board unanimously approved the new Costa Azul development, which includes an Element by Westin hotel, an office building and restaurant on the corner of El Camino Real at the end of Valley Centre Drive. As an added benefit, the project will bring amenities such as a public trail and small park.

The Costa Azul site is on an El Camino Real corner that 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 that will replace the existing Tio Leo’s.

Costa Azul will include a six-story, 123-room hotel and a four-story office building with a 5,400-square-foot restaurant. A subterranean parking garage for the project will be accessed through Old El Camino Real, near the existing Shell station.

The planning board has been working with father-son developers Fred and Hunter Oliver on the project since 2016, pressing them to blend the project with the new neighboring hotel, to provide a community benefit and to improve on its “boxy” architecture.

In response to the planning board’s input, the “boxy” buildings were re-imagined by Gensler Architecture, bringing in variations with terracing and adding articulations such as glass. The office building includes an amenity deck with views of the terrain.

To address connectivity, they added an eight-foot-wide walkway path to and around the project from Valley Centre Road as well as a pocket park. A pedestrian promenade will connect with the new hotel across the street and the park space.The trail will continue down to connect with the Old El Camino Real and Carmel Valley Road as it heads toward Torrey Pines State Beach.

At their April 26 meeting, board members complimented the developers for their willingness to work with them to ensure that the project complimented the community.

“It’s a better project at the end of the day, we appreciate your help,” said Hunter Oliver, noting that it is a better-looking building that the potential tenants are more excited about.

The project will still be requesting a height variance as the maximum height allowed in the zone is 60 feet and 15 percent of the project is at 75 feet. As the project has evolved, the developers have brought the height down from an originally proposed 95 feet to preserve the views of the bluffs.

Marco Gonzalez, a San Diego environmental lawyer, said he was concerned about the height and the justifications and findings made for allowing the increase. He said he agreed with everyone that it is a better design but he disagreed with the presumption that it’s a commercial zone so the height limit no longer matters and that a precedent was set when the neighboring Marriott was granted a 12-story hotel and eight-story office building.

Gonzalez said the renderings do not accurately show the “stark” impact the 15-foot allowance would have on adjacent commercial uses and neighbors.

“I would just say just build to the height limit,” advised Gonzalez.

Carmel Valley Planning Board Chair Frisco White noted that as they are an advisory board, the planning board typically doesn’t make findings on variances. He said the San Diego Planning Commission and City Council will have to make those findings when they review the project in the coming months.