SLO County development is expanding with more homes and a hotel. What else is planned?

Big changes are coming to a Nipomo housing development, including new homes, a hotel and retail space.

On Tuesday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve plans for the final build out of Trilogy at Monarch Dunes.

The 957-acre development on the Nipomo Mesa, owned by Shea Homes, currently features about 1,200 homes, a golf clubhouse, a spa and even a restaurant, according to its website.

During this next phase of development, Shea Homes will finish the Village Center — a horseshoe-shaped space with shops on the first floor and condominiums on the second, according to SLO County senior planner Shawn Monk, who spoke at the meeting.

The hotel, originally planned for a more southern neighborhood in the development, will now be built in the Village Center, according to Monk.

Shea Homes will also build duplex homes on plots of land previously designated for the hotel and a public park, Monk said.

New homes are seen under construction at Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in Nipomo in 2018. The housing developmnt is expanding.
New homes are seen under construction at Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in Nipomo in 2018. The housing developmnt is expanding.

Instead of a park, Shea Homes will build a public walking trail next to an existing equestrian trail, according to Monk.

The original specific plan for the project was approved in 1998, according to Shea Homes representative Jamie Jones, who spoke at the meeting.

Since then, Shea Homes has worked with the county and Monarch Dunes residents to adapt the project to a changing economy and community needs, Jones said.

“People have been engaged, and it’s made a better project,” Jones said.

The Central Coast Maintenance Association, one of three homeowners associations at Monarch Dunes, sent a survey to all 1,228 households in the development in August, according to group president Cameron Ward.

According to Ward, the survey had one question: “Are you in favor of this proposal as a whole, or are you not in favor of it as a whole?”

Ward said 61% of survey respondents supported the project.

This is an improvement from April 2021, when only 48% of 714 survey respondents said they supported the project, according to county documents.

“Our goal is to minimize negative impacts, maximize benefits for the community, seek to understand what the community’s concerns were,” Ward said, “and then try to determine how we can make this work out in the best interest of the community has a whole.”

Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in NIpomo is expanding with more homes, a hotel, retail shops and a public walking trail.
Trilogy at Monarch Dunes in NIpomo is expanding with more homes, a hotel, retail shops and a public walking trail.

SLO County homeowners protest new location for hotel

Shea Homes originally planned to build a 400-room hotel on land previously designated as the “resort area.” Now, the hotel will be built in the Village Center, Jones said.

Many homeowners near the Village Center object to the hotel’s new location, concerned about noise and traffic that guests could add to the community.

When Julie Wilchek bought her home in Monarch Dunes, the hotel was planned for another area of the development. With the new plan, the hotel will now be in her neighborhood, she said during public comment at the meeting.

“My concerns for noise, congestion and safety will be increased with a hotel operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “We are dangerously close to losing peace, tranquility and resort living. The very cornerstone of Shea’s marketing to induce us to purchasing our homes here.”

According to Jan Madsen, folks living near the Village Center bought their homes with the expectation of privacy and access to shops — not the hustle and bustle of a hotel.

“I overheard sales agents tell prospective buyers that the hotel would not be in the town center,” she said. “It was definitely a promise made by the builder.”

Other residents support the hotel, however.

“I especially like the idea of having a small hotel where our visiting friends and relatives can stay,” Monarch Dunes resident Val Szigeti said at the meeting.

After hearing community concerns during the design process, Shea Homes downsized plans for the hotel from 97 rooms to 65 rooms, Jones said.

The hotel entrance was also relocated from Vista Tesoro Place to Trilogy Parkway to reduce traffic in residential neighborhoods, according to Jones.

To reduce noise, the developer pledged to move an outdoor bar from the hotel roof to a balcony on the second floor, Jones said.

Design details of the hotel, such as where the bar is located, must be approved separately by a vote of the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission for a conditional use permit, according to Monk.

The Monarch Dunes Village Center will include shops, condominiums and a hotel.
The Monarch Dunes Village Center will include shops, condominiums and a hotel.

New plan for Nipomo development has less shops

The hotel isn’t the only change to the Village Center.

The Village Center, shaped like a horseshoe around a plaza, was originally intended for commercial retail — such as a grocery store and a medical center. The new design plan features less shops, but offers housing.

Retail space in the Village Center will decrease from 140,000 square feet to 38,500 square feet, which allows for 396 parking spots and 40 condominium units on the second floor, Monk said.

Not everyone was impressed by the Village Center’s new design.

“We believed Shea’s promise of the Village Center and a self-contained community,” 12-year Monarch Dunes resident Peter Scobel said. “Walkable amenities were promised to keep us off of dark county roads getting food or medicine. Now they want to gut the Village Center and build condos.”

Monarch Dunes resident David Blair, however, appreciated that Shea Homes designed a smaller hotel in the Village Center.

“In my opinion, the land use changes in the specific plan amendment are in keeping with how Monarch Dunes has evolved over time,” Blair said. “Our community has maintained the character of a great residential neighborhood, everyone is friendly and we look out for each other. A resort will no longer fit into our neighborhood context, but a small boutique hotel could.”

In the Monarch Dunes development, 36 duplex homes will be built on land previously designated for a hotel.
In the Monarch Dunes development, 36 duplex homes will be built on land previously designated for a hotel.

Monarch Dunes to get 122 new homes

Shea Homes will build 122 housing units on land previously designated for the hotel and the public park, Jones said.

According to Monk, 36 duplexes divided into 76 units are planned for the former hotel site. About 25% of those homes will include accessory dwelling units, she said.

The public park site will be converted to 23 duplexes, which breaks down into 46 units.

According to Jones, 25% of those units will also include accessory dwelling units.

The 31 accessory dwelling units will be “affordable by design,” and count towards San Luis Obispo County’s state-mandated affordable housing goals, according to Jones.

“We’re providing a lot of housing options between the twin homes, the condominiums, and the 31 accessory dwelling units,” Jones said.

Shea Homes to build public walking trail

Originally, Shea Homes offered to build an 11-acre public park in the Monarch Dunes development for the county to maintain.

The San Luis Obispo County Parks Department rejected the application, because Nipomo needs a park large enough for “active recreation” — at least 15 acres in size, an agency spokesperson said at the meeting.

Developers of large housing projects are required to either designate public park land in their developments, or pay in-lieu fees to the county. Known as Quimby fees, they are based on the estimated cost of building a park for the residents of the development, according to the county.

Had Shea Homes not built a park or other public space, it would have owed the county $1.2 million in Quimby fees, Monk said.

The Planning Commission recommended that Shea Homes build a 5-foot-wide paved walking trail beside the existing 6-mile equestrian trail instead of paying the Quimby fees, according to Jones.

The Woodlands Master Association, one of the development’s homeowners associations, pledged to maintain the walking trail in perpetuity, according to group president Art Herbon.

“It’s a win-win for the South County,” Herbon said. “It will make 88 acres of beautiful eucalyptus groves fully accessible to the public, and the WMA will agree to maintaining it to a high standard.”

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to allow Shea Homes to build the trail instead of paying its Quimby fees.

According to Monk, there isn’t a set date for construction yet, as Shea Homes still has to acquire permits for land use and building.