An interactive garden park proposed for Paso Robles’ east side was unanimously approved by the city’s Planning Commission on Tuesday night.
The Discovery Gardens will feature activity areas with mazes, fountains and optical illusions to attract visitors to a resort complex approved more than a decade ago to be built along Highway 46 East between Airport and Dry Creek roads.
Previously dubbed Black Ranch Resort, the resort complex consists of a 200-room hotel, 80 guest casitas, a conference center, a café and a wine center and has been re-branded with a new owner as Entrada de Paso Robles.
The gardens are the vision of property owner Ken Hunter, a co-owner in the Hunter Ranch Golf Course across the highway. He purchased the property out of foreclosure a few years ago for about $4 million from local hotelier King Ventures.
Instead of a 27-hole golf course that also came with the resort’s original approval in 2002, the new owner asked to replace it with a garden-themed destination park, a three-hole golf academy, ornamental landscaping and an 18-acre vineyard.
The changes mean the overall project will use 58 percent less water per year than the overall resort and related attractions approved by the city more than a decade ago. That’s a consumption of about 240 acre-feet annually, down from the original 570 acre-feet per year, according to the city.
The golf course alone would have consumed about 500 acre-feet of groundwater annually while The Discovery Gardens will use 90 acre-feet per year.
An acre-foot of water is enough to supply three families of four for a year.
The gardens will use private well water on the site until the city gets its recycled water program going, likely within the next 10 years. The resort and related buildings will tap into the city’s potable water system.
The gardens do not need City Council approval, since Hunter was only amending an already-approved permit, and city planners say he wants to begin construction on the gardens next year.
However, he does need council approval to remove from the site 175 oak trees, some of which are in poor health, and to use septic tanks for the first phase of construction, city planner Susan DeCarli said Wednesday.
Hunter is currently working on refining his grading plans, which may reduce the actual number of trees that need to be removed, she added.
A hearing date for the City Council to consider these requests will be announced when his new grading plans are submitted.