Vineyard proposed at Nipomo's Monarch Dunes instead of 3rd golf course

The Monarch Dunes Golf Club near Highway 1 on the Nipomo Mesa opened in 2006.
The Monarch Dunes Golf Club near Highway 1 on the Nipomo Mesa opened in 2006. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Instead of building a third golf course at Nipomo's Monarch Dunes as originally proposed, the developer of the 957-acre property is seeking to add a vineyard — a change he says will attract tourists and beautify the area.

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 5-0 to process the developer’s request, the first step in amending the project’s specific plan.

But several supervisors expressed concerns about a project that would increase water use in an area facing water shortages.

The property’s water supply is provided by Woodlands Mutual Water Co., a private company operated by the developer, Trilogy at Monarch Dunes.

The water company draws from the Santa Maria groundwater basin, which is currently in Level 3 severity status, meaning the existing demand meets or exceeds the supply.

“I’ve got some big problems with this from a water standpoint,” Supervisor Frank Mecham said. “We have (water shortage) problems in the North County. We also have a problem in the South County. … For me, this will be a tough battle ahead.”

Trilogy at Monarch Dunes by Shea Homes, the developer, is requesting several changes to the project.

The original specific plan adopted in 1998 called for 1,320 homes, three golf courses, a 500-room resort and a 140,000-square-foot commercial center among other uses.

The new proposal replaces one golf course with a vineyard, downsizes the resort to 300 rooms, adds a food and beverage processing facility (possibly a winery), and relocates commercial space to create a four-acre park instead of a 1.8-acre park.

The property already has 619 single-family homes and 36 multi-family homes built, along with an 18-hole and a 12-hole course and clubhouse, and a 1-acre business park with one current occupant.

Trilogy area Vice President Preston Holdner said the vineyard would save 88 million gallons of water per year compared to a golf course, and he said a water recycling system would be used throughout the small community he referred to as a “village.”

“All water used by homeowners will be recycled,” Holdner said. “We look forward to sharing the story of how we will execute a plan in a way that conserves water.”

Holdner said the project would provide more than 2,000 long-term jobs through direct and indirect commerce, such as vendor contracts.

He said new retail and business space, as well as additional housing, would also benefit the local economy.

The developer’s economic analysis showed the area “is saturated with no demands for additional courses.”

“The third golf course (at Trilogy) did not make economic sense,” Trilogy wrote in a project statement as part of the amendment proposal.

A vineyard would be successful because of the climate and conditions for grapes; attract tourists; and offer homeowners a stake in the operation, a “vested interest,” through the homeowners association.

Additional crop production, under the amendment, could include lavender plantings and olive orchards.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson said the question may not be whether agriculture would use less water than a golf course.

“No water is being drawn there now, so there’s no drain on the basin from existing uses,” Gibson said.

The entire Nipomo Mesa relies on one source of water, an underground aquifer referred to as the Santa Maria groundwater basin that stretches from Shell Beach to Santa Maria, covering a surface area of about 256 square miles.

The Nipomo Community Services District and three other water purveyors — Golden State Water Co., Rural Water Co. and Woodlands Mutual Water Co. — use about 39 percent of the 11,000 acre-feet of groundwater consumed on the Nipomo Mesa, according to the Nipomo Mesa Management Area Technical Group.

The Nipomo services district is building a pipeline from Santa Maria and plans to buy water from that city to serve its customers. The cost of the pipeline and water will be shared with neighboring water agencies, including Golden State, Rural Water and Woodlands.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold said an environment review of the Nipomo project will address the water impacts, as well as the use of pesticides.

Arnold said a boutique vineyard, which she views this proposal to be, also has a different mission than a large-scale production.

“A vineyard in this sense would be used in a landscape and hobby way, not just trying to make a dollar on agriculture production,” Arnold said.

County planner Jay Johnson said the applicant will need to present the details of the specific size of a vineyard to replace the planned 219-acre third golf course — as well as other amendment particulars.

The 957-acre Nipomo site was previously known as Woodlands Village, but on Tuesday the developer’s amendment request also sought a name change to Monarch Dunes, the same as its existing golf courses.