Grover Beach convention center plan stalled by appeals

New lodge and conference center held up by objections from Coastal Commission members and an off-road group with access concerns

clambert@thetribunenews.comMarch 14, 2014 

Glenda Charrette, left, and Lee Ashworth groom their horses in the equestrian staging area in Grover Beach in March 2014. They worry that a new hotel would not be compatible.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

It was supposed to be a decisive step, one that would allow Grover Beach officials to move forward on long-held plans to build a hotel and convention center they hope would attract tourists and increase revenue.

In December, the City Council unanimously approved a permit for the Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center, which would be built on a dirt lot near the nine-hole Pismo State Beach Golf Course.

The next step was for the city staff to put together funding plans for millions of dollars worth of public improvements related to the project.

But instead of moving forward, the city’s efforts have slowed amid two appeals: one by two California Coastal Commission members and another from a large group of off-road vehicle enthusiasts.

Also, a procedural error has prompted city staff to recommend the council revisit its approval.

The project — a joint effort between State Parks and San Diego-based Pacifica Companies — has returned to the council for approval several times since December. Each time, it has been continued as State Parks and Coastal Commission staff work on an issue raised in the commissioners’ appeal.

The project is again scheduled for Monday evening’s council meeting, and City Manager Bob Perrault hopes that the two state agencies reach an agreement before then. Otherwise, the item could be continued once more.

“We’re still optimistic about that, and we are getting closer,” he said Friday.

If the council chooses to rescind its previous action and approve a new development permit for the project, it would nullify the existing appeals — but the action also would start a new appeal period.

The project includes a 150-room hotel, 11,000 square feet of conference facilities and a restaurant to be built on about 13 acres at Highway 1 and West Grand Avenue next to the beach.

While hearings on the project have spanned more than three years, city officials had been talking to the state about the idea since the early 1980s.

Pacifica Companies would build and manage the lodge.

The city has agreed to complete about $7 million in public improvements, including providing an equestrian staging area, a new putting green and street upgrades, and burying some utility lines underground. The city’s most expensive item is building the conference center.

The entire project is estimated to cost upwards of $30 million.

In January, Grover Beach received copies of the two appeals filed with the state Coastal Commission.

Coastal commissioners Steve Kinsey and Mary Shallenberger appealed because the project did not include a condition to prohibit a seawall from being built in the future.

State Parks and commission staff have been working to draft a condition to satisfy that concern.

The other appeal, filed by Friends of Oceano Dunes, raises several issues, including the proposed relocation of an RV dump station currently located on the project site.

The dump station would be moved to an existing facility at State Parks’ North Beach Campground, less than a mile away off Highway 1 in Pismo Beach.

The Friends group asserts this will increase traffic in that area, limiting access to the dunes.

The group also argues that the project will reduce parking space for equestrian users and off-highway vehicle owners, who now use the lot for parking.

Equestrians have been parking in the dirt lot to access the beach since the early 1980s. However, the use of the site has always been informal, Perrault said.

The city had hoped to provide an equestrian parking area on an acre lot west of Grand Avenue, but the Coastal Commission nixed the idea in April. The parking area is now planned for about 10,500 square feet in the southeast corner of the project site.

Jim Suty, president of Friends of Oceano Dunes, could not be reached for comment Friday. But in a Dec. 31 interview, he said the city had ignored concerns the group raised about the lodge for several years.

“We are not against the lodge. We just want our issues addressed,” he said.

Despite the issues, city officials hope the project will be back on track soon.

“We may have some delays,” Mayor Debbie Peterson said, “But I am sure it’s still going to happen.”

However, Peterson said she was disappointed that Friends of Oceano Dunes filed an appeal. She has supported their views on dust issues hovering over the off-highway vehicle park.

“My objective would be that they continue to trust that the community is very supportive of them and wishes to make things work in the best possible way for them,” she said. “My hope would be that they would drop it.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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