Two More Motels in the Works

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 16, 2024

There are two new motel projects making their way through the City of Morro Bay’s planning department, with one now slated for Coastal Commission review and the other heading to the City Council.

The new projects will add to the more than 1,000 motel rooms in town if they are ultimately approved, though both have seen clear sailing so far.

A New Life for an Old Hut

The latest project to go before the Planning Commission is an effort to turn an old Quonset Hut Navy training barracks into a small hotel and is proposed by a family with deep roots in the local lodging industry.

John and Joan Solu, their son Ethan Solu, and associate, Brian Harvey, are listed as the owners and applicants to redevelop the 1940s-era, former Navy Quonset Hut located at 1141 Main St., into a 10-room hotel using the existing building and its unique half-pipe architecture sitting an oddball shaped piece of land.

“The site is an irregular rectangle of approximately 18,500 square feet,” reads the report by Assistant Planner, Susana Toner. “The existing building is a circa 1942 Quonset Hut building that is approximately 4,100 s.f. and was originally intended for military use, possibly for temporary housing. The building was modified in the 1980s by adding an art-deco façade at the front of the building.”

For many years the old hut was an antiques and furniture store and had been approved to become a large retail space with an indoor apartment, but that project never went anywhere.

The cavernous building has sat empty for many years.

The plans are to retrofit the building into 10 hotel rooms making mostly cosmetic changes to the exterior of the building and framing in the rooms inside.

It’s a complicated project because of where it sits.

“The site has split zoning,” Toner’s report said, “with the east side of the site in the C-1 Commercial Zoning District (new zoning designation will be Community Commercial) and the west half in the R-2 Zoning District (new zoning designation will be Medium Density Residential). The property is outside the coastal appeals jurisdiction.”

The property has room for 11 parking spaces and will also have a couple of EV chargers too.

“The modifications to the building are minor and do not deviate from features in some original Quonset hut designs used for housing in the mid 1940s,” Toner said. “A determination was made that the project does not require a historical building evaluation because of the previous changes to the building and the project is restoring the building to the original profile of a Quonset Hut building.”

The site plan would move parking to the rear of the property, the residential zoned side, and use much of the side areas for outdoor patios for the rooms. The only changes to the building with be adding those patio doors and windows for light.

The new design stays true to the lines of the classic Quonset Hut design, but it’s still an 80-year old building that isn’t considered an historic structure, so why not just tear it down and build from scratch?

The applicants, in a letter to the City, said, “The building is such a unique piece of architecture that we believe that it should be renovated and preserved, not demolished to make way for a large-scale street to street project. Once used as a Boy Scout meeting spot in addition to wedding hall, the building has not been occupied as a business since prior to the pandemic.”

The Quonset Hotel will have to be approved by the City Council, expected at an upcoming meeting. It is outside the Coastal Commission appeals zone, so if the Council approves of the plans, it would move to the “building” side of the process.

Libertine is Approved

One of the few waterfront lease sites remaining to be redeveloped has flown through the City’s approval process and will now go to the Coastal Commission.

City Council unanimously approved a redevelopment plan for the Libertine Brewing Co., located at 801 Embarcadero, that will see the entire site almost completely torn down and rebuilt. 

It’s an extensive project that includes the first steps towards the City’s Centennial Plaza concept.

 Planning Manager Cindy Jacinth’s report reads: “The project includes demolition of a majority of the 4,677 square feet, 2-story building with basement. The project would be reconstructed as a 5,206 s.f. mixed-use building adding an additional 529 s.f. The project proposes a new 7-unit hotel on the second floor with public viewing deck; first floor restaurant and coffee shop uses; and expanded basement area for the Libertine Brewing business. 

“Site improvements include multiple public coastal access enhancements including a new 15’ wide Harborwalk gap extension, replacement of 7 steel piles, sleeving of 3 existing wood pilings, replacement of existing dock with new dock area with ramp, 2 side-tie boat slips, and public access improvements to the adjacent street end by removing public parking in the street end to create a public plaza, and master sign program approval.”

The Libertine’s redevelopment would come on the heels of the complete redevelopment next door, as the on-time restaurant and retail space is being reborn into Harborwalk Plaza, a 2-story motel-retail-restaurant development nearing completion now.

The Libertine owners closed the business down several weeks ago in anticipation of the new project. Despite  a requirement in the lease that the business remain open, closing it was deemed OK since the plan is to tear it all down. But according to the Harbor Director, they still must pay the base rent, which is listed at over $40,000 a year.

The City Council did hedge on one aspect of the project — creating the Centennial Plaza concept. The new development will eat up parking spaces on the street end, an area that was intended to become a public open area in conjunction with a remodeling of the Giant Chessboard Park across the street and up to the Centennial Stairway and Parkway on Market Avenue.

Though that design is still on the books it’s never likely to be built, as the City has been unable to find a buyer for the Market Avenue property despite several different real estate firms taking on the listing.

Though the new Libertine will eat up several parking spaces, the City Council decided to not make them put in the plaza features for now. Rose’s Landing across the street is also supposed to contribute to the plaza.

The Libertine redevelopment will also plug a hole in the Harborwalk, connecting to the new walkway behind Rose’s Landing and the new Harborwalk Plaza’s walkway on the north side.

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