At the conclusion of their single-topic, 93-minute meeting, held July 28, 2020, the City of Coronado’s Planning Commission voted 4-1 to deny three permits requested by partners Crown Manor Owner Christopher Bower, and Co-applicant the Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton. If passed, the permits would have allowed overnight accommodations and events at the 1015 Ocean Boulevard location, which was built in 1902.
Specifically the agenda item called for consideration of a Major Special Use Permit, approval of a Parking Plan, and a Coastal Permit for the location, which is in a R-1A single family residential zone. Crown Manor was designated as a historic resource in October 2001, and a Mills Act property in October 2002.
There is a portion of the Coronado Municipal Code which according to the City Staff report on the agenda item, allows for, “Adaptive reuse of historically designated properties at the discretion of the City Council. Adaptive reuse can be a successful Historic Preservation practice that provides for economic viability of historic resource, while also ensuring that they are preserved and maintained.”
Later in the City Staff report, additional background relating to the application was supplied. “The proposed overnight accommodations and events are consistent with the General Plan, including Land Use Element Goal 5 encouraging the preservation of historic structures as well as Policy B.3. of the Historic Preservation Element calling on the City to encourage rehabilitation and continue to use or support adaptive reuse of historic buildings and to offer flexibility in land uses. Additionally, the project is consistent with the development standards of the Coronado Zoning Ordinance, and the policies of the City of Coronado including its General Plan and Local Coastal Program.”
As the permit applications met the legal requirements for acceptance, City Staff then delineated nine Standard Conditions and 17 Additional Conditions in an attempt to make the permit applications feasible for a Residential Zone. A few of the Additional Conditions included:
Sixty dedicated parking spots will be available at the Hotel Del Coronado for Crown Manor events
Check in/Check out services shall occur at the Hotel Del only
The property shall only be leased to one lessor party at a time
Events shall end no later than 10 p.m.
Amplified sound is permitted in the rear yard area between the hours of 12 noon and 10 p.m., however all activities on-site shall comply with the City’s Noise Ordinance
The maximum capacity for overnight guests at Crown Manor will be limited to 16
Crown Manor shall comply with the applicable provisions of the 2019 editions of the California Building Code, Mechanical Code, Energy Code, and Title 24 Accessibility Codes
The owner shall maintain surveillance cameras along the perimeter of the building and property, with the footage maintained for a minimum of 30 days and available to the Coronado Police Department upon request
During the Commissioners’ consideration of the permit requests, and before the final vote, Commissioner Beate Boyd added a condition which would mandate that no event or guest parking would be allowed on Ocean Boulevard.
Despite a recommendation of acceptance by City Staff, the three Crown Manor permit applications were faced with strong public resistance. Just 24 hours prior to the Planning Commission meeting, there were 130 public comments posted on the City’s website, with just three of the postings in favor of the project, or 97.7 percent of the public against the concept. The total amount of correspondence, including a petition against the plan, Emails, and public comments, grew to 250 before the Planning Commission’s meeting.
Bower, who has owned Crown Manor for 20 years, spoke to the Commission via a Zoom call and said, “I have taken great pride to maintain a historically accurate property inside and outside, to preserve the legacy of Crown Manor for the community, but I can’t continue to do so. If I can’t make Crown Manor economically viable, I would have to sell it.” He added later in the call, “I will insist that only very select, highly sophisticated events will be allowed. If there are issues with the neighbors, I will personally address them.” Later Bower said, “The square footage (of Crown Manor) allows for 188 guests and I don’t see us coming in anywhere near that amount.”
To provide some financial context, according to the website realtor.com, the 11 bed, 18 bath Crown Manor was listed for sale in April 2018 for $25 million. Arguably after the Hotel del Coronado, Crown Manor is the most famous edifice in the city.
Also speaking on behalf of plan was Randy Gaines, Hilton Senior Vice President Operations New Development. He said, “We work and operate in a lot of our communities and our goal is to make sure all of the guests at meetings and events are fully vetted. We know the prestigiousness of the (Crown Manor) estate and the clientele we will be entertaining. We will monitor those noise and traffic congestion situations so they will have no impact on the neighborhood. Crown Manor is a very historic building and we feel that is a huge complement to that operation. We will screen guests and the events will have security.”
The Planning Commission is comprised of Chair Alex Yakutis, Vice Chair Ed Weisbrod, Boyd, Jon Ryan, and Peter Jensen. After hearing public comments via Zoom, some of which were heard and some weren’t, the Commissioners provided their input. Ryan spoke first and said, “I have a couple of thoughts. The idea makes a lot of business sense and would work well other places, but not in Coronado Village. If the applicant and Hilton had gotten all the neighbors in the contiguous block to 100 percent agree to this, it would have had a different look. This is an adverse neighborhood situation, the neighbors are not happy at all. I can’t support this and will be voting no.”
Weisbrod said, “We have seen an overwhelming tidal wave of comments and correspondence which are against this. For me, it’s a tough decision. They have all their ducks in a row and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do. It’s ‘no’ right now for sure, because there is so much opposition to it. It’s not the right thing to do at this time.”
Boyd, who cast the one vote in favor of the permits said, “I too have seen all the comments and several are from dear friends and they are opposed to a special use permit. The applicants have done their due diligence, as has the staff, and this is a tremendous opportunity for this building in Coronado and an admirable attempt to utilize the building. I would lean toward approval because he has done his due diligence.”
Jensen thoughts included, “I think the staff did a tremendous job. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the owner and Hilton to strictly adhere to the conditions. I just think it is fundamentally inappropriate to have this type of facility in that area.”
Chairman Yakutis had the final word and said, “It’s a residential neighborhood. The City has no malice involved in this. They did the review, which was fair. Sometimes good intentions are not what the public wants. What the applicant is trying to do is what I would do if I owned that house.”
If a hearing ends in a vote against a permit request, a reason needs to be supplied. At the suggestion of Rich Grunow, Coronado’s Director of Community Development, Redevelopment Services and Housing , the reasons for denial were based on operating characteristics and the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The motion to accept the permits was defeated with Ryan, Weisbrod, Yakutis and Jensen voting no and Boyd in favor.
Contacted Monday by phone Bower said, “I think the facts got away from the narrative. I believe that after a systematic vetting of the application, the opponent’s objections could have been addressed and dealt with. The Commissioners felt a lot of pressure. Social media has been filled with crazy threats and hysterical people. The staff worked on this for five months and we had an outstanding business plan, which was recognized by some of the members of the Commission as such. The staff did a fine job on this. The best thing for the community and the neighbors is if the application was looked at on a factual basis. The plan was designed to protect the neighbors, benefit the community, and making Crown Manor a community asset.”
When asked if he and his Co-Applicants from Hilton would appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council, Bower said, “I don’t know yet. I think we (Bower and Hilton) have had a team effort to date and I don’t know why we wouldn’t in the future.”