How a Developer Got to Build a Three-Story Hotel on the Leucadia Bluff
The California Coastal Commission first approved the project that’s become known as the Encinitas Beach Hotel in December 1992. Subsequent amendments, renewals, etc. were based on the first approval and did not change the height and grading specifications.
Quotes from the 1992 staff report:
• Page 3: “Said plans shall have received design review approval from the City of Encinitas and verify that no structure shall exceed 2 stories or 30 feet in height as measured from the lower of natural or finished grade.”
• Page 10: “. . . construction of an approximately 138,460 sq. ft., two-story plus basement level, 30-ft. high, 130-unit resort hotel complex on a 4.3 acre blufftop site in the City of Encinitas.”
This Orwellian paragraph appears on page 11:
• “Although the proposed buildings are to be constructed as two-stories with a basement level, portions will appear to be 3 stories. Most of the proposed north facing buildings will have a 3-story appearance, rising vertically for all three floors, giving the appearance of a solid wall of buildings along the north facing portion of the site.”
According to the CCC, a building can appear to be three stories but actually be only two. As the developer’s rendering above clearly shows, the north-facing wing of the building is three stories. The first story starts at the level above the basement and rises to three stories from the finished grade. About two-thirds of the building doesn’t only appear to be three stories, it is three stories.
Asked about this discrepancy, Katie Innes, a senior planner in the city’s Development Services Department, replied, “The Encinitas Beach Resort is required to meet the City’s height requirement of 30 feet and two stories. The subterranean levels of the building do not count toward the two story height limitation.”
Advised that “subterranean” means underground and that the developer’s rendering clearly shows three stories above ground, Innes replied, “When more than 50% of the perimeter of a building level is buried (<4 ft. exposed), it is considered a basement level. There are portions of the lowest visible level shown on the rendering that are located behind the building that are buried (more than 50%), which qualifies that level as a basement.”
When notified of the inconsistencies between the height specifics in the CCC’s approval and the building shown in the developer’s rendering, Eric Stevens, a coastal program analyst in the CCC’s South Coast District office, replied in part as follows:
“This response email was written in coordination with the Commission’s legal and enforcement divisions.” . . .
“The project was approved prior to certification of the City’s Local Coastal Plan and the standard of review was the Coastal Act.” . . .
“I understand that you have some concerns about how the City calculates and/or defines basements, and whether the proposed project is consistent with City requirements. Please understand that Commission staff has not and is not reviewing the project for conformance to the City’s requirements, but rather to the project as approved by the Commission.”
The CCC’s approval specified a height limit of two stories and 30 feet from the lower of natural or finished grade. The approval came before the city’s Local Coastal Plan was certified. Therefore, the standard of review should indeed be the Coastal Act and the CCC’s specifics, not the city’s convoluted definition of what’s above and below ground. The city’s specifics are irrelevant.
The CCC staff and its legal and enforcement divisions ignored the approved 1992 height limits, deferred to an irrelevant, convoluted city definition and improperly approved a three-story hotel on the bluff in Leucadia.
— Doug Fiske