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Panel certifies Solar Turbines buffer zone, delays Harbor Island hotels

The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday put off a vote to consider building three hotels on east Harbor Island, but did approve a six-block buffer in Little Italy.

The Port of San Diego withdrew its application to amend its master plan to allow up to three hotels on east Harbor Island, after nearly two hours of discussion about lower-cost overnight lodging.

“What the Port is proposing is not enough to offer the public when it comes to low-cost rental accommodations,” said California Coastal Commissioner Jana Zimmer. “The Port has the duty as a public agency to offer the public [access] to the bay to its utmost power.”

Coastal Commissioner Greg Cox said he would like to conduct research to see if having rental restrictions on future proposed hotel rooms is a viable option.

“I would implore staff to talk about whether we should have low-cost overnight accommodations,” Cox said.

After hearing the commissioners’ remarks, the Port of San Diego decided to resubmit its application later. Port and Coastal Commission staff will try to resolve the room-rental restrictions.

Coastal Commission staff is also requiring that buildings take up less than 70 percent of each project site.

The Port wanted to amend its master plan to allow up to three hotels, instead of one, of no more than 500 rooms combined in two areas.

The amendment would have also allowed for a public access promenade extension and traffic circle realignment on Harbor Island.

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

The hotel would contain meeting and fitness space, common areas, an exterior pool and surface parking. The Sunroad hotel would replace a locker building and parking spaces; existing marina offices would remain.

Unite Here Local 30, a union attempting to force Sunroad to hire only union contractors, has been trying to block the project.

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.

Little Italy buffer zone

The Coastal Commission certified an overlay zone to create a six-block buffer east and southeast of the Solar Turbines facility in Little Italy.

Coastal Commission staff said the proposed buffer zone will prohibit residences, kindergarten through 12th-grade schools, child care facilities, hospitals, and intermediate-care and nursing facilities within 650 feet of Solar Turbines.

The proposed 12-acre overlay zone will 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 southeasternmost block).

The Solar Turbines proposal comes about six months after the San Diego City Council approved in concept a nine-block buffer zone.

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 Turbines 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.

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