Equestrians could lose access to dunes in Grover Beach

Grover Beach lodge and conference center rendering.
Grover Beach lodge and conference center rendering.

A vegetated dune area south of West Grand Avenue could scrub Grover Beach’s plans to include an equestrian parking area there as part of its long-held plans to build a lodge and conference center next to the beach.

The proposed 0.8-acre area for equestrians to unload their horses and access the dunes is a small part of the city’s larger plans to construct a 135- to 150-room lodge and 11,000-square-foot conference facilities on 13.4 acres at West Grand Avenue and Highway 1.

But it has become an important issue for local equestrians who want their longtime access to the beach preserved, and for Coastal Commission staff who say the area is sensitive habitat and recommend the equestrian area be moved elsewhere.

The project will go before the Coastal Commission on Thursday afternoon in Santa Barbara. It will consider changes to Grover Beach’s local coastal program, a plan approved by the Coastal Commission that allows the city to issue permits in the state agency’s jurisdiction.

The Grover Beach City Council tentatively approved the project last June, but it cannot move ahead without the Coastal Commission’s approval of changes to its local coastal plan.

The project has been in the works since the early 1980s, when Grover Beach and California State Parks began discussing building a lodge facility within the city on state-owned land. City leaders hope it will serve as a catalyst for future development and bring much-needed revenue to Grover Beach.

The city and the Coastal Commission have received numerous letters from equestrians and others concerned about maintaining public access to the beach.

Coastal Commission staff has recommended some changes to ensure access to the beach, including free parking, public paths and access to most areas of the lodge project — excluding the rooms and swimming pool.

Grover Beach and State Parks have agreed to all the modifications, except for the location of the horse facility. An alternative could be to relocate the proposed equestrian parking area to the north side of West Grand Avenue, but that would not address the issue of horses crossing the street.

Equestrians urged the commission to also approve the proposed parking and staging area on the south side of West Grand Avenue, which would eliminate the need for horses to cross the street and preserve the access they’ve had to the beach since 1982.

But commission staff said the area — though “somewhat disturbed” and containing nonnative and invasive ice plant — is an environmentally sensitive habitat and should remain open space.

Commission staff recommends the city and State Parks look for different ways to accommodate equestrians “if that component of the project is to move forward,” according to the staff report.

How to get involved

Seats are still available for those wanting to attend Thursday’s Coastal Commission hearing on the proposed Grover Beach lodge and conference center. A bus and meals will be provided by Pacifica Companies, which was selected in 2008 to design, construct and oversee the lodge’s operation. To reserve a seat, contact Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson by Wednesday at 550-4490 or petersonteam@charter.net. The proposal will be heard during the commission’s afternoon session, which starts at 1 p.m. at El Capitan Canyon Resort, 11560 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. The meeting can be viewed online at www.coastal.ca.gov.