April 14, 2014 In News

Sand City developer elated after long fight for coastal permit

By: Larry Parsons Monterey Herald Staff Writer

“I’m delighted to reach this point,” Ghandour said from his home outside Santa Rosa. “We’re looking forward and not backward.”

Ghandour said the 10-2 vote Friday by the Coastal Commission to grant a permit for the Monterey Bay Shores Resort — a hotel and condominium project touted as having an advanced environmentally sustainable design — ensures that he will “push very hard” to comply with permit conditions so construction can start soon.

“We have already begun to deal with compliance issues,” he said. “We’d like to be in construction within a year.”

Ghandour said he was preparing to celebrate Passover on Monday night — the Jewish holiday observing the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt — and had reason to increase his personal celebration.

“It’s a great coincidence it comes the date we celebrate Passover,” he said, “where we celebrate the exodus from Egypt.” He said he will also be celebrating “freedom from Coastal Commission bondage.”

Twice before last week, the coastal land-use panel had denied permission for Ghandour to build his proposed resort but he prevailed in a pair of lawsuits. That led to Friday’s decision by the commission to finally green-light the project, which calls for 184 hotel rooms, 184 condominiums, three swimming pools, a spa, restaurants and other features.

Ghandour said he won seven court decisions during the fight — including one in 2012 with the Sierra Club over the 2010 issuance of a water permit for the project by the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District.

The project site includes the former home of a sand-mining operation that pumped up to 1,000 acre-feet of water a year from a property well. Ghandour’s Security National Guaranty has rights to a 149-acre feet annually under an adjudication of Seaside Basin water rights. The project calls using just under 64 acre-feet a year.

“We use significantly less water than a typical project,” Ghandour said.

California American Water Co. essentially will be delivering water belonging to the property to the project, he said. The 2012 appeals court decision said Security National Guaranty’s rights to Seaside Basin water were separate from Cal Am’s, and the water district could ensure that no Carmel River water would go to the project. Cal Am is under state order to sharply reduce its pumping from the river.

The coastal permit calls for the project’s hotel rooms and visitor-serving condominiums to be finished first, but Ghandour said the project will be built in a single phase, providing construction jobs for three years.

“We’re not going to phase it because of the complex design of the project,” he said.

He said Security National Guaranty already has sunk “tens of millions of dollars” into the project, and building it will cost “north of $300 million.”

Ghandour said he doesn’t anticipate roadblocks getting financing — from institutional banks and other investors — for the project because of its special environmental design.

“It’s not just another project with a golf course in a nice location,” he said. “This is one of the most sustainable projects on the horizon.”

As for critics of the coastal development, Ghandour said both the state and a private land trust had the opportunity in the 1990s to obtain the land for preservation, but didn’t want to pay market value for the property. That would have been about $25 million in 1996, he said.

“They had the opportunity to bank it and they blew it,” he said.

Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379.