Divided commission backs boutique hotel project in Leucadia


The Encinitas Planning Commission reached a compromise Thursday, May 16, and approved permits for a high-end, boutique hotel in Leucadia.The final vote was 3-1, with Commissioner Bruce Ehlers voting no. Commissioner Al Apuzzo did not participate in the evening’s debate because he had a conflict of interest.

Commission Chairman Glenn O’Grady initially voted no, but later changed his stance after his fellow commissioners agreed to his request to reduce the number of people allowed at one time on the open-to-the-public section of the proposed hotel’s rooftop deck. The project’s developers had asked for permission for 106 people; the commission agreed to allow 75.

Commissioners said they expected their decision to be appealed to the City Council, regardless of whether they approved or denied the project’s permit requests. Thursday was the second of two nights of public testimony on the latest version of the hotel plans and about two dozen people spoke to the commission, with about half of them in favor and half against. Both groups brought their own expert witnesses to testify.

Put forward by a group of Encinitas area investors, the proposed project would transform the old Portofino Beach Inn, a now-closed, rundown lodging operation located at 186 N. Coast Highway 101 next to the HapiFish sushi restaurant.

The new hotel, which is to be called “The Ray,” would be an upscale, mini-hotel with 35 rooms, a restaurant, several bar areas and a rooftop deck with a small pool.

Proponents argue that the city desperately needs a luxury lodging spot and this place would be a huge community asset visited by both locals and tourists. Tammy Temple, who’s handling publicity for the project, told the commissioners that the hotel would provide many community benefits, including tax revenue, employment opportunities and the elimination of a visual blight on the landscape.

Opponents said the place was going to become a “big party house” because it has so many alcohol-serving areas on multiple floors. The resulting noise will disrupt the residential neighborhood to the west, while hotel visitors who wish to avoid the hotel’s valet parking requirement will block the narrow roadways in the area, they said.

It's going to be hell for us,” said Sunset Drive resident Richard Burkhart.

Commissioners Kevin Doyle and Brett Farrow both strongly supported the proposal, with Doyle saying he couldn’t wait for the “blighted” Portofino to be gone, and Farrow saying the new hotel would be the sort of place he would want to stay in if he were traveling to Encinitas.

“I think this will be an award-winning project and I think we should support it,” Farrow, an architect, said.

O’Grady said he could support much of the proposal, except for the rooftop deck area’s open-to-the-public bar, saying he thought it had the potential to become a huge noise issue for neighbors.

“I don’t have a problem with the deck and the pool; I have a problem with part of it being public. I have a problem with a bar up there,” he told the other commissioners, later adding, “I’m very concerned about things getting too loud on the upper deck.”

Ehlers, who ultimately was the lone no vote on the proposal, said he had multiple concerns with the project, but his biggest issue was that he believed it violated the spirit of the city’s growth-control measure, even though it may technically meet the standards. The upper deck area looks like more like a third story on the building rather than a rooftop deck and that’s not allowed without a public vote under the terms of the growth-control measure, said Ehlers, who was one of the leading backers of that growth-control measure.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune