Grover Beach lodge proposal worries riders

Today, the site of what Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals hopes will become a bustling, four-star lodge and conference center is a large dirt lot, situated near Fin’s Seafood Restaurant and the nine-hole Pismo State Beach Golf Course.

It’s a plan that’s been nearly three decades in the making on state-owned land at West Grand Avenue and Highway 1. Now, Shoals hopes the project is complete by the end of 2012 — but acknowledges it’s more likely to open in 2013.

City officials have said the proposed Grover Beach Lodge and Conference Center would bring what they say is much-needed revenue to their town and would also attract other businesses.

“For the city, this is really our flagship project,” Grover Beach City Manager Bob Perrault said, “and it’s hoped that it’s going to assist (in) catapulting the redevelopment efforts in the downtown commercial core.”

However, the proposal concerns at least one group — a group of equestrians who say the West Grand Avenue dirt lot provides the only parking area for their trailers in the South County with access to the beach.

The proposal includes 11 to 13 parking spaces for parking horse trailers, but some longtime local residents say that’s not enough.

“It’s inadequate,” said Linda Clarke, who along with a group of fellow Ride Nipomo members met Tuesday at the parking lot to discuss their concerns. “That’s what’s so frightening to equestrians — where else are we going to go? Are we going to lose our coastal access for a hotel?”

The 119,770-square-foot proposal includes three main buildings with 150 rooms and an 8,000-square-foot conference center and meeting space.

Originally a 7.5-acre project, the proposal has grown to 15 acres to include amenities such as a plaza, picnic area, restroom and shower facilities, a new golf course practice green and a beach concessions building, Shoals said. It would also include 415 parking spaces.

Fin’s and the golf course would remain, though the restaurant would be modified to match the new project’s design, he said. Both brought about $225,000 in rent to the state in the 2008-09 year, the most recent data available, said Nick Franco, superintendent of the State Parks’ San Luis Obispo Coast District.

The city is working on the project’s state-mandated environmental-impact report, a process that’s likely to wrap up by March, Shoals said. From there, the city’s Planning Commission and City Council would consider the project, and if approved, it would go to the California Coastal Commission for consideration.

Officials estimate the lodge could bring in more than $530,000 in revenue in its first year.

The project’s lengthy history includes some recent milestones: In December 2006, the city and state approved an agreement making the state-owned land available for the project. And in March 2009, council members, acting at the city’s Improvement Agency board, approved a contract with the state and Pacifica Companies to facilitate the construction of the lodge and conference center.

The agreement requires the San Diego-based company to develop and operate the facility.

Pacifica is expected to contribute at least $20.5 million toward the project’s construction costs. The city originally agreed to contribute $450,000 to cover a portion of the project’s development fees, but that offer was never finalized, Perrault said.

Equestrians want accessWorried equestrians emphasized that the city has included them in the discussions for the proposed lodge. Their concerns, they say, stem from a history of having their access to the beach restricted or eliminated.

In the early 1990s, horses were banned from the Oso Flaco Lake entrance to the Nipomo Dunes after an effort by the environmentalist group Nature Conservancy to lessen the impact on the area.

Horseback riders challenged the ban before the county Planning Commission and the California Coastal Commission, which in September 1991 gave equestrians an additional six months to ride through the area while State Parks officials looked for another way to provide permanent access to the beach for horses.

That access ended up being the Grand Avenue area.

“This is such a popular place,” said Chris Smith, owner and operator of Big Wakoo Horseback Adventures, who leads trips with his 13 horses. During the summer, he may park his 23-foot trailer in the lot five to six days a week.

He estimates that, depending on the day and time of year, he sees anywhere from 10 to 25 trailers in the lot. The trailers also complete for space with other recreational uses, such as RVs.

The city does not track the number of horse trailers that use the area.

In April, the city initiated a meeting with the equestrians; Perrault said about 50 people attended, and some indicated they hoped the area would be larger.

Ride Nipomo members are circulating a letter that states that when the project was first proposed, there was an understanding that 25 spaces for horse trailers would be provided. City officials say they don’t recall that number being discussed.

“This area is designed to be restricted to their use, which is something they don’t have currently,” said Perrault, himself an equestrian. “That, at least from my perspective, is an improvement from what they have.”

He added that the area, currently proposed at the south side of Grand Avenue, might accommodate more than 11 to 13 trailers, depending on how they are parked.

“The project is still going through the review process, which means it is still subject to some modification,” Perrault said.

Economic stimulus envisionedMeanwhile, Shoals — who has worked on the project throughout his nearly eight years on the council — is looking ahead to next year to watch the lengthy process continue gaining steam.

He has called it one of the city’s “catalyst projects needed to stimulate economic investment in the beachfront area and along the West Grand Avenue corridor.”

Shoals’ mayoral seat is up for re-election this year; he has filed papers to run for another term, according to the Grover Beach city clerk’s office. One of the motivating factors, he said, is the lodge project.

“The lodge really is something to have a vote on, and to say we moved it into the final phase is exciting,” he said.

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