Six-Unit Motel Proposed for Harbor View Site

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.

March 26, 2021

This rendering shows a 6-unit motel that’s being proposed for the corner of Harbor Street and Market Avenue. It includes two, 2-story buildings fronting Market Avenue with a total of four single story units. Each will have sun decks facing the waterfront.

An old motel site with a million dollar view overlooking Morro Bay’s waterfront is being eyed for redevelopment, with the Planning Commission recently being introduced to a conceptual plan seeking comments.
The proposal is to tear down the old Harbor View Motel units, now being rented monthly, and build a 6-unit, 2-story, 5,054 total square foot motel, located at 205 Harbor St., at the corner with Market Avenue.
The applicant/owner is listed as Chung Hsiao of San Diego, with Thom Jess of Arris Architecture designing the project, and Morro Bay’s Cathy Novak Consulting firm acting as the agent.
There would be four units on the ground floor and two on a second story that’s adjacent to Market Avenue, according to the concept plan submitted to the Planning Commission. It would step down the bluff, keeping the required 50-foot setback from the bluff top.
“First floor space includes a view courtyard, entry court, hotel lobby,” reads a staff report by Senior Planner, Cindy Jacinth, “and guest laundry space. The second floor includes a roof deck for guest use. All hotel rooms include west-facing private patios.”
The proposal includes seven parking spaces for the hotel with access off Market Avenue, including one handicap accessible space, and two bike parking spaces.
Novak told Estero Bay News that the new owner of the property was looking for a project to do in Morro Bay. This property has known its share of broken dreams.
The property was once the 17-room Harbor View Motor Lodge, before a huge storm in March 1995 caused the bluff to slip and a 25-foot tall retaining wall to fall down in one piece and crush a parked car down on Front Street.
That caused swift action to remove a swimming pool that had been partially undermined by the landslide before it too slipped down the bluff. It also ended the motel use, and the handful of remaining rooms were turned into monthly rental apartments.
The property is actually six small lots and the project proposes to consolidate them into one. It lies within the Coastal Commission’s appeal jurisdiction, which was the death knell for the last redevelopment project that was proposed for the site.
Over the years since the 1995 catastrophe, several proposals have been made to redevelop it, with the most extensive coming in 2004 when the late-Dan Reddell proposed the “Harbor View Project” a 3-story mixed-use development covering some 17,182 s.f., that stepped down Harbor Street with buildings designed to look like row houses in San Francisco.
The controversial project was touted as a desirable mixed-use development that would have commercial/retail spaces on the ground floor, office/art studios on the second floor, and residences on the third floor.
The Planning Commission denied it primarily because of the size. The City Council approved it however, and it went to the Coastal Commission on appeal, which in the end killed the project over several issues, like the ratio of commercial space to residential, and parking fees.
Novak said local developer Smith held bought it after Reddell’s project fell through, and they were working on a 30-unit motel project with Jess designing it. But when they encountered troubles with the City, Novak said Held dropped the project and put the property up for sale.
The new owner, Hsiao, she said, had Jess design this new project so that it fit inside the proverbial “box.”
“Most of the new building is on the existing buildings,” she explained. “That makes for a lot less grading.” Essentially they decided to work up a project that Novak said “would not be asking for any exceptions.”
The site is zoned Commercial Visitor-Serving (C-VS) and sits in a “Planned Development” (PD) overlay area, which means basically that the City has a greater say in how it’s designed and rules can be bent to achieve a better project.
Novak noted that the conceptual project isn’t using any of the potential exceptions that it might be entitled to under a PD. Their setbacks are all at or near to the City’s requirements and they hope to avoid having to put in another retaining wall by stepping back from the bluff edge and staggering the units to break up the blocky look. “It won’t block the views of the neighbors,” Novak said.
City Planner Jacinth said it is also within the Beach Street Specific Plan area. “This zoning district allows hotels as a conditionally permitted use with a minimum lot area per unit of 750 s.f. Depending on design and layout, the size of the site could accommodate up to 23 units, however, the applicant’s concept plans are for a 6-unit hotel to accommodate larger guest room sizes ranging between 650 to 685 s.f. and to minimize bluff alteration and excavation.”
Novak said their idea is to make larger units suitable for a family to rent. They may also put in kitchens, though the details like that have yet to be worked out.
If they decide to go forward with the project, Jacinth said they would need a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) and a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).
The Planning Commission wasn’t slated to take any official action on March 2, but rather just to comment on the design, as there is not yet a formal application filed.
Novak said commissioners suggested the removal of a couple of cypress trees on the corner and better articulation of what will be the motel’s lobby entrance at the corner. “There were some good comments,” she said. “Thom [Jess] will flush them out.”
They will now have an engineer draw up plans for drainage on the site and more; and a landscape architect will come up with a design. They hope to have a project ready to make application in a few months. She said the owner really hopes to be under construction by the end of this year. “I think it will be well-received,” she said of the final project.
It is at least the fifth motel project currently in the City’s pipeline, with three located in North Morro Bay — two on North Main (a 34-unit and an 8-unit motel) and one on Atascadero Road (83 units) — and another on the Embarcadero at the former Off the Hook Restaurant lease site (11 rooms).
And Rose’s Landing recently completed turning their second story into a 10-room motel, The Inn at Rose’s Landing.
On the other hand, the Rodeway Inn on North Main Street is proposing to be turned into a residential drug and alcohol rehab center, from it’s current motel use.
That project is slated to go to the Planning Commission on Appeal sometime in April. It was approved over the counter by the Community Development Director but appealed by a neighbor.

You May Also Like…

City Passes Gun Safety Law

City Passes Gun Safety Law

Do you own guns and live in Morro Bay? Then you need to make sure your guns are locked away where only you can get at...