The Dolphin Motel — a presence at the corner of Rosecrans and Garrison for decades — is headed to demolition by summer. Its demise will make room for a new Portuguese-themed hotel called the Monsaraz. Its namesake is that of an ancient hilltop town in Southern Portugal. In 2011, the medieval town that overlooks the water had a population of less than 1000. The design is meant to be an ode to Point Loma's Portuguese history.
The proposed hotel will replace the existing four buildings of the Dolphin Motel with a three-story, 92-room hotel over a basement garage. At its heart will be a large courtyard garden with space for casual community gatherings and more formal events like weddings. It will be accessible via the ground floor bar/lounge. A third-floor deck with a harbor view is in the plans, too. There will be no pool.
Before the local planning group unanimously approved the project on January 18, the community discussed parking and traffic concerns.
At the meeting were representatives for the project: Brian Hansen (project architect), Cameron Lamming (operator of future hotel), and Greg La Marca (developer).
According to the city, there are 55 underground parking spaces proposed with an additional 28 surface spaces — manned by a valet at all times. Per the project team, there will be 92 underground parking spaces and the valet is the only one allowed into the underground garage. The hotel operator is going to try to work out something with the Port to allow any possible overflow parking to go across the street (Fisherman's Landing).
The project team said removal of curb cuts on Garrison are going to double street parking there. The city confirmed that five existing driveways will be removed and one will be rebuilt for the hotel entrance.
The project team stated that the hotel is not a full-service hotel, so deliveries will be minimal. Per Lamming, there will be approximately 25 employees total.
Height of the new hotel was discussed. Due to recent protests over developers building tall and dense in cozy single-family neighborhoods, it's usually a topic of discussion. The project team said the hotel will be 33.3 feet tall — measured from an approximate 6-foot raised planter along Rosecrans. This got a laugh. Hansen reminded the community that it's a commercial area, not residential, and that the city has already approved the height. The highest point will be the solar panels.
A community member wanted to further discuss how the height was measured, but boardmembers jumped in to nip that conversation in the bud, saying they could be there all night. Later in the evening, an agenda item was focused on height as it relates to Proposition D (coastal height limit).
The city confirmed current zoning allows 60 feet tall while Proposition D allows 30 feet tall.
The developer lamented not being allowed to beautify the pool area behind the hotel, along Scott and Garrison, due to a complication of it being on Port land.
In truth, it seemed the developer had the community — Jerry McGuire-style — at: "Did we mention we're getting rid of the billboard?" The mention of this garnered laughter several times at the meeting.
The fight for the beauty of Point Loma over the beast of billboards in the heart of the business district has been a long one. The Point Loma Association has been on it since the early 1960s. The Dolphin Motel has one of only two billboards left along Rosecrans, between Talbot and Nimitz.
In 2013, the previous owners of the Dolphin Motel offered to get rid of their billboard in exchange for community support of their expansion. The community felt jerked around when the expansion happened and the billboard stayed put. A glitch happened over the city making the removal of the billboard a condition of the expansion. The outdoor billboard industry had lobbied hard to make such conditions a legal nightmare for municipalities. This caused the city to back down and the motel owner to be too afraid to go up against the goliath that is Clear Channel.
The hotel went up for sale in 2016 for $6.3 million — billboard included. It sold in December 2016.
Robert Tripp Jackson, native of Point Loma and member of the Point Loma Association, said his group unanimously approved of the project a couple weeks ago.
Jackson is happy about the new hotel providing employee parking. He said other businesses ask employees to park elsewhere to leave parking open for customers. This leads to employees parking in residential neighborhoods that then leave little parking for residents in front of their own homes.
Once the Dolphin Motel billboard comes down, there will still be the billboard across the street. Jackson said the Santana Family (Santana Mexican/MXN) have owned the billboard for about eight years and don't seem interested in removing it.
What are the chances the Dolphin Motel billboard will finally come down? The developer, Greg La Marca, said, "Initially, Clear Channel was very resistant to the idea and were extremely uncommunicative. After a recent trip to their offices they softened their tone and are being quite reasonable now. We are just finalizing our agreement with them."
Paul Brencick from city communications said the hotel project is in its third review, most recently submitted on January 16 with comments due back on January 29. He said any minor issues remaining are hoped to be addressed in the recent submittal. "The Peninsula Community Planning Board recommendation has not yet been received by [Development Services Department]."