In an effort to attract more visitors to Blacklake Golf Resort, developer and resort owner Rob Rossi is dusting off plans to add about 100 hotel rooms as well as new homes and retirement units to the Nipomo Mesa property.
But in the midst of an exceptional drought that has officials calling on residents to slash water use, some of those residents are worried that the project — now in conceptual stages — will impact the underground aquifer, the area’s only source of water.
Rossi said he would buy supplemental water from the Nipomo Community Services District once it completes a pipeline from Santa Maria to Nipomo. Water is expected to start flowing in July 2015.
All of the water for the new development would come from the new supplemental water, he said. Rossi also plans to rip up 30 to 40 acres of turf and redesign the golf course while still keeping 27 holes.
“I think (the project) conserves water, imports water and has a water-positive outcome,” Rossi said last week. “What we’re asking for and what we’re intending to do is very typical for a destination golf resort.”
However, a Blacklake resident who attended a recent meeting on the proposal said it seemed contradictory to add homes and a hotel at a time when Nipomo district residents could face higher water rates if they don’t curb their use.
The Nipomo services district has asked residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 30 percent, but it has not yet held hearings on drought-related rate increases.
“We’re being hounded to conserve, and all of a sudden they want to build 150 homes and a hotel with a restaurant,” said Dorothy De Santis, a Blacklake resident who is vice president of one of the seven homeowners’ association boards.
She said about five homeowners in her subdivision have torn out their lawns and replaced them with drought-tolerant plants, bark and rocks.
Rossi was a founding partner of RRM Design Group, which designed the Blacklake specific plan beginning in 1978. The specific plan describes a resort community of 559 homes with an existing golf course that was built in the 1960s.
The specific plan was adopted by the county Board of Supervisors in 1983.
Rossi bought Blacklake resort in 2001; the owner is Blacklake LLC, and the investors are family members, Rossi said.
However, the purchase did not include a subdivision of at least 70 bungalows known as Tourney Hills that Rossi said were often used as vacation accommodations by golfers. Only a handful of those units are now rented, he said, and visits to the resort have dropped from as many as 90,000 golf rounds a year in 2001 to about 65,000 a year now. The economy and competition from other courses also contributed to the decline, he said.
“It has not been as viable since the loss of the units and reduction in play, so we’re looking for ways to make it successful,” Rossi said.
Rossi had reached an agreement in the mid-2000s with Blacklake homeowners for additional development, including new homes, a hotel and condos, but the Great Recession halted those plans.
His current proposal includes about 100 single-family homes, a 100- to 120-room hotel, and about 50 retirement units near the Blacklake clubhouse.
The numbers vary from those included in the project description submitted to the Nipomo services district. That described an estimated 110 to 130 residential homes, about 130 hotel rooms, 100 retirement units and 25 spaces for recreational vehicles.
Rossi said those were early numbers used to analyze water demand.
Rossi has held one meeting with local residents; another is planned for Aug. 27. He has submitted an application to the Nipomo services district for water but has not yet applied for permits from San Luis Obispo County.
If everything moves ahead as scheduled, Rossi would like to start construction sometime in 2016.
Tearing out turf
The proposed development would use about 40 acre-feet of water a year, based on the project description Rossi submitted to the Nipomo district. (An acre-foot is equal to about 326,000 gallons.)
Currently, the resort has about 200 acres of irrigated turf that uses about 2.5 acre-feet of water per acre a year. Treated effluent is used for about 10 percent of the irrigation.
By tearing out 30 to 40 acres and making other modifications, Rossi said, he could save 60 to 80 acre-feet of water a year.
Tearing out that turf and increasing the use of treated wastewater for irrigation could actually reduce the amount of water used at the resort even after the development was built, according to a preliminary water analysis of the project completed by Wallace Group.
But Rossi’s plan has left some residents scratching their heads, wondering how the proposal will actually save water. Although Rossi plans to buy supplemental water, the water from Santa Maria is a blend of groundwater and state water.
“We’re trying to figure out how the heck all that water usage is going to be a net zero or a decrease in water use. It’s the same aquifer,” De Santis said.
Blacklake was annexed into the Nipomo Community Services District in 1994. District General Manager Michael LeBrun said the board could consider Rossi’s request in late September, after the property owner answers some questions about the project.
LeBrun said he was pleased with Rossi’s plans to buy supplemental water and tear out turf. Removing grass, he said, would offset water demand from the new development.
“If we could get 100 percent offsets and 100 percent supplemental water for every development on the Mesa, then we’d be looking at getting back to a long-term balance and recovering from over-pumping,” LeBrun said.