Big project has big concerns in North County

Residents have a chance Tuesday to tell the Paso Robles City Council what they want studied in a report analyzing how a proposed major development with hotels and vineyards could impact the city.

If the Gateway Project is eventually approved, first-phase construction could begin as soon as 2015. The project would be built on 270 acres of mostly agricultural land at Highway 101 and Highway 46 West, which the city would annex from the county.

The applicant is landowner Michael Furlotti from the Bay Area. He has proposed the project, which would be near South Vine Street, through a company called Quorum Realty III LLC.

While a slew of issues are to be studied, the project’s impacts to water and traffic have already been brought up as public concerns.

Groundwater is a hot-button issue in the North County right now as reports of precipitous drops in water levels in the Paso Robles basin continue to emerge.

Studies are slated to confirm whether the land is over the dwindling Paso Robles groundwater basin or the healthier Atascadero sub-basin.

But a closer look at plans for the project shows that water use is being taken into account.

Its 114 acres of vineyards and orchards are intended to be dry farmed and watered from agricultural wells. Also, all of the project’s domestic water use — such as in its hotels, homes and commercial centers — would come from 80 acre-feet of water that Furlotti anticipates buying from Lake Nacimiento, said Larry Werner, the project’s engineer. He is also chief executive officer of the Paso Robles-based firm, North Coast Engineering.

The city is tapped into a regional pipeline from the lake for its own supplemental water.

In traffic concerns, realigning part of South Vine Street — a west-side frontage roadway along Highway 101 known for its red-tinted bike lanes — is another much-discussed subject.

That’s because moving the southern portion of the street is key to regional plans intended to help alleviate traffic jams where highways 101 and 46 West meet.

One option, as proposed by Furlotti, is to move the road through the Gateway Project.

Another option is to move it through his property as well as through a separate parcel just east of the project.

Both options are to be studied in the upcoming impact report.

Eventually, Furlotti could also be one of several property owners responsible for millions of dollars in fixes planned for the intersection.

Phasing is a key theme in the development, with construction and opening dates ranging from 2015 to 2030.

The project’s four phases would bring: a 100-room vineyard hotel, village commercial center and vineyards; a 192-room hillside hotel with conference center and a commercial site; a 100-room resort hotel with a main lodge and bungalows and a commercial center; and finally the construction of 30 homes.

Once built, all three hotels are expected to bring about $2.4 million in transient occupancy tax revenue to the city, Werner said, should the project be annexed and approved.