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Harbor Island hotels, Solar buffer zone on coastal panel agenda

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday is scheduled to consider requests to build three hotels on East Harbor Island and to create a six-block buffer east and southeast of the Solar Turbines facility in Little Italy.

The Port of San Diego wants to amend its master plan to allow three hotels, instead of one, of no more than 500 rooms combined in two areas. The amendment would also allow a public access promenade extension and traffic circle realignment on Harbor Island.

The Solar Turbines proposal comes about six months after the San Diego City Council approved in concept a nine-block buffer zone. The revised 12-acre overlay zone would run north-south between Laurel Street and Grape Street (1,900 feet), and east-west between Pacific Highway and Kettner Boulevard (530 feet, excluding the southeastern most block).

The proposed buffer zone would prohibit uses considered incompatible with Solar Turbines’ industrial use, such as residences, schools (kindergarten through 12th grade), child care facilities, hospitals, and intermediate-care and nursing facilities within 650 feet of Solar Turbines.

The hotel request is a bid by Sunroad to build a four-story 175-room hotel on one of Sunroad's leaseholds at 955 Harbor Island Drive overlooking the 600-slip Sunroad Marina on Harbor Island. The Port of San Diego approved the plan in March.

The hotel would contain meeting and fitness space, common areas, an exterior pool and surface parking.

Unite Here Local 30, a union attempting to force Sunroad to hire only union contractors, has been trying to block the project. A battle with the union in 2005 caused Gaylord Hotels to withdraw from plans for a 1,400-room hotel and convention center on the Chula Vista bayfront.

If approved by the Coastal Commission, the amendment would allow for up to two additonal hotels besides the proposed Sunroad hotel. The Sunroad hotel would replace a locker building and parking spaces; existing marina offices would remain.

Sunroad Resort Marina has a 50-year lease with the port district for a 600-slip marina on East Harbor Island that will expire in 2037.

According to the Coastal Commission staff report released last week, staff would like the amendment to address parking management to protect public recreational opportunities and to require taking part in the Port’s shuttle system.

Coastal Commission staff recommended the hotels not block public access to the bay and require conforming to size limits so that buildings would not exceed 70 percent of each project site.

Two key discrepancies remain between Coastal Commission and Port staff: providing on-site low-cost visitor amenities and the timing of the promenade construction.

The Coastal Commission staff report says the amendment “does not adequately protect coastal access and the right of access on public tidelands.”

City approval of the Solar Turbines buffer zone came after a lengthy battle over what was to be the Fat City Lofts project at Pacific Highway and Hawthorn about two years ago. Solar led the charge to kill that plan, arguing that residential use was incompatible with long-time heavy industrial use.

Solar Turbines did not object, however, when the decision was made to build hotels instead. Two Hilton hotels, totaling 364 rooms, are being built on the property. The hotels will include two pools and spas, multiple dining and meeting rooms, gym facilities and 2,500-square-feet of retail and restaurant space.

Earlier in the decade, the Fat City property, which the family of the late Tom Fat owned for generations, was sold first to FC Acquisitions for $7.45 million. FC Acquisitions, led by Jonathan Segal and E. Garth Argossy, sold the property in 2012 for $10.8 million to partnerships controlled by Mayur and Kalpana Patel.

The corner was originally occupied by Top’s Nightclub, which opened in 1941. Fat City, China Camp and Denny's later occupied the property.

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