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California Coastal Commission Rejects Harbor Island Hotel Proposal

A push to create more inexpensive hotel rooms along the state's coastline led the California Coastal Commission Thursday to reject a $30 million, 175-room hotel project planned for Harbor Island in San Diego.

The commissioners voted 9-2 to deny an amendment to the Port of San Diego's master land use plan, which was one of numerous items taken up during the second of three days of meetings in Chula Vista.

The master plan originally envisioned one 500-room hotel at the site on the east end of Harbor Island, but was subsequently modified to three lodging houses that would offer 500 rooms combined.

With the commission putting a renewed focus on public access to the coastline in the form of lower-cost overnight accommodations, the port had offered to have 25 percent of the remaining 325 rooms fit in low- to middle- cost categories.

Of more than 8,000 rooms that provide overnight stays on port tidelands, only 237 are considered lower cost — and those are at a recreational vehicle park in Chula Vista, according to a commission staff report. Commissioner Mark Vargas said that works out to around 3 percent of the available rooms. The figure should be more like 25 percent since the port administers public land, he said.

A fee on developers that was supposed to foster the creation of budget- friendly lodging has not brought about the desired result, according to the report.

Commission staff said that while they worked out details with the port and developer that involve public coastal access and protection of resources, proposed language for a deal on room rates "does not adequately protect and encourage lower-cost visitor-serving accommodations."

Last week, the port responded with a letter to the commission that said the hotel project doesn't constitute a change in land use in its already approved master plan. The port also contended the commission's recommended language is illegal and unconstitutional.

The east side of Harbor Island where the three hotels would have been located is currently the site of overflow parking for airport rental car companies. With auto rental services being moved soon to the north side of Lindbergh Field, the port is facing the prospect of losing the leases for the property in another year or two.

The commission also unanimously approved the Ocean Beach Community Plan on Thursday, which took about a dozen years to piece together and was approved by the City Council a little over a year ago. That prior approval came with several modifications, mostly over shoreline protection and environmentally sensitive lands.

The coastal commission inserted language that would prevent future hotel development from only offering high-end room rates. The California Coastal Commission has authority over development and land-use decisions along the state's shoreline.

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