For Doug Manchester, owner of U-T San Diego and the Grand Del Mar resort hotel in Carmel Valley, it seems it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
On Jan. 4, the San Diego City Attorney's Office filed a complaint against Grand Del Mar Resort L.P. over a number of violations city inspectors found on hotel property. The complaint says that on May 26, 2011, an investigator with the city's Neighborhood Code Compliance Division, a zoning investigator and a senior park ranger inspected the property and noticed that new equestrian trails had been added without a permit and in violation of the city's municipal code. It wasn't the first time inspectors had been out to the property. In 2003, the complaint says, Grand Del Mar was issued a notice of violation for "illegal grading, impacts to Environmentally Sensitive Lands, and violations of conditional use and permit conditions" for the property's golf course and a park site that was being developed without permits.
The unauthorized grading, the complaint says, "impacted wetlands, steep hillsides, open space areas, mitigation areas, property containing potential historic resources and removed sensitive biological resources."
Two months later, inspectors returned and this time noticed a new, unpermitted equestrian stable in addition to the trails, "impacting over 1.68 acres of Multiple Habitat Planning Area and Environmentally Sensitive Lands." A Multiple Habitat Planning Area is land that's protected from development because it contains sensitive wildlife habitats. Inspectors also noted three new parking lots—2.66 acres total—that had been added without a permit.
The Grand Del Mar's website boasts about its equestrian center; a one-hour trial ride costs $135 per person. Guests can take a 90-minute riding lesson for the same amount. The center opened in spring 2011; DiscoverSD editor Michelle Guerin, who now works for the U-T, gushed about it in a March 2011 blog post:
The Grand Del Mar is not horsing around. Take my word for it; last week I paid a personal visit to the new 20,000-square-foot equestrian center, complete with eight beautiful trail horse and ponies, tack and feed rooms, and an expansive riding area, or “arena” – just a little bit of equestrian slang I picked up during my day in Del Mar.
On Sept. 20, 2011, the Grand Del Mar was issued a Notice of Violation that required all unauthorized construction on the property be stopped, that measures be taken to prevent soil erosion resulting from the equestrian trails and that professionals be hired to "provide recommendations and prepare necessary plans and documents for all required permits to either restore or develop the site."
But wait—there's more. The complaint goes on to say that in addition to the unpermitted equestrian center, the Grand Del Mar opened its Club M nightclub without obtaining necessary police permits or an alcohol permit and added a helipad without getting a conditional-use permit and in violation of state, local and FAA regulations. The Reader's Dorian Hargrove reported on the helipad. In addition to the violations named in the complaint, Manchester's got into trouble with the FCC for installing a cell-phone-signal booster at the Grand Del Mar and at his personal residence and, as Voice of San Diego reported, ignored the permitting process when he added an antique-car museum to U-T headquarters.
"Plaintiff is informed, and believes that Defendant has failed to correct all of the code violations at the PROPERTY," the complaint says.
The complaint asks that the Grand Del Mar be ordered to correct all violations, compensate the city for legal and investigatory costs and be assessed a penalty of $2,500 a day for each violation.
On Jan. 7, both sides agreed to resolve the case via a mediator, and yesterday, Grand Del Mar was ordered to pay the city $87,456.39.
President of Manchester Grand Resorts, Tom Voss, sent CityBeat this statement via email: “We are working closely with the city to resolve these issues and we expect to have the permits approved shortly.”
Note: A few people have asked if Grand Del Mar will still be required to fix the environmental damage. We've asked the City Attorney, and Tom Voss, this question and will update the story when we find out. Also, for some background on the code-compliance issues at the equestrian center, see Dorian Hargrove's report in the Reader.
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