LA QUINTA

Study: Controversial La Quinta surf park would have little noise impact, water usage within allocation

Sherry Barkas
Palm Springs Desert Sun

While vocal group of residents in La Quinta have deemed a proposed masterplan resort with surf park in La Quinta “the wrong project” at “the wrong time,” a draft environmental impact study has found the development would have little impact on surrounding communities with regard to noise, and that annual water usage would be well under the 1,200 acre-feet allowed by the Coachella Valley Water District.

Water usage and the potential for traffic and noise are some of the top concerns that have been raised by area residents regarding Coral Mountain Resort, which plans for a wave park with “the largest, rideable open-barrel, human-made wave in the world” created by world-champion pro-surfer Kelly Slater.

The draft environmental impact report is available for public review and comments at the city of La Quinta's website.

Coral Mountain Resort is proposed for 386 acres of mostly vacant land on the southwest corner of Avenue 58 and Madison Street.

Project developer Meriwether Cos. is proposing a mix of uses including up to 600 custom homes with starting prices of $2.5 million; a boutique hotel with up to 150 rooms; a 16.62-acre artificial wave basin designed by Kelly Slater Wave Co.; 60,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial uses on the east side of the property, along Madison Street; and 23.6 acres of open space recreation uses which could include hiking and biking trails, zipline and more.

The hotel building is proposed to be four stories – about 45 feet high – though hotel rooms would make up the first two floors and a limited area where a viewing platform for the wave pool may be built, project manager John Gamlin said.

The area is approved for a 750-home gated community with 18-hole golf course, much like the surrounding communities of Andalusia, Trilogy, PGA West, The Quarry and Coral Mountain Estates.

A panoramic view of the Coral Mountain development site, off of Madison Street, between Avenue 58 and Avenue 60 and across from Andalusia, in La Quinta. The masterplan resort community sits on 400 acres and is proposed to include a hotel, 600 homes, a 20-acre wave basin and other amenities.

The property is zoned for neighborhood commercial, low-density residential and golf course.

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As proposed, Coral Mountain Resort would remain low density, but reduce the number of homes by 150 from the approved 750 to build the hotel and replace the approved golf course with the wave basin requiring a general plan amendment and zoning change to tourist commercial and parks and recreation.

The 7.7 acres zoned for neighborhood commercial is on the southwest corner of Madison and Avenue 58, where a small store and restaurant could go, said Garrett Simon, a project planner with Meriwether Cos.

Meriwether Cos., based in Boulder, Colo., with an office in Los Angeles, bought the property in 2019 with a vision for a housing development and resort with wave pool, using the technology created by Kelly Slater Wave Co.

Simon said the wave basin would use 75% less water per year than an 18-hole golf course.

Meriwether is also planning to hold four special events per year, drawing up to 2,500 people and running about four days, each. The special events, however, would require a temporary use permit from the city.

Meriwether is working with Desert Recreation District on plans for a trail along the toe of Coral Mountain and connecting across the property to maintain public access.

Custom homes are also planned, with a starting price of about $2.5 million, to be built in phases based on demand. Those homes would not be part of the membership club, Simon said, and those residents would not have access to the wave pool and other recreational amenities.

Findings of the draft EIR

In addressing some of the concerns that have been raised by area residents, including water usage, noise, traffic and lighting, the draft environmental impact report, prepared for the city by MSA Consulting in Rancho Mirage, made the following findings:

WATER: The draft EIR found the project to have “less than significant” impacts on water quality, usage and depletion of groundwater supplies. The Coachella Valley Water District allows for up to 1,200 acre-feet of water to be used per year, and the proposed project will use about 958.6 acre-feet per year, the environmental study shows.

The study looked at other possible alternative uses for the property, and found that the existing proposal by a former developer for 750 homes and 18-hole golf course would use about 1,058.4 acre-feet per year. A project with no water amenities or golf would use about 906.6 acre-feet per year, the study found.

NOISE: The draft EIR found a “less than significant” impact from noise during construction and once the project is completed and the wave basin is operating. Mitigating measures outlined in the report include maintaining fixed mufflers on all fixed and mobile construction equipment; building a 6-foot perimeter wall along the northern and eastern properties, adjacent to the planned housing component to minimize traffic noise; and limit operation of the wave basin to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.  

The mountain is more likely to absorb rather than deflect sounds from the wave basin during normal use and special events, Bill Lawson, with Urban Crossroads, a traffic, air and noise consulting firm, wrote in a memo to the developer and included in the draft environmental impact report.

TRAFFIC: Studies done at various intersections around the project found “no significant cumulative impact.”

LIGHTING: Seventeen 80-foot-tall light poles would be placed around the wave basin, each about 20 feet apart, to illuminate it during permitted evening hours from dusk to 10 p.m. Similar to a palm tree trunk, the vertical light poles will occupy very little mass, the environmental report states. The lights at the top of the poles would “only impact a small area of the scenic vista” relative to the overall landscape. Coral Mountain and the Santa Rosa Mountains would not be obstructed by the light poles, the report states.

‘Wrong project in the wrong location’

Since the plan for a wave park was first made public in 2019, the project has drawn opposition from some who live around the site.

Resident Alena Callimanis has questioned not only the proposed 18-million-gallon wave pool at Coral Mountain, but has also been before Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage city councils asking them to put developments with water park amenities on hold as California deals with a drought.

She believes it is a threat to water security and goes against California’s “Reasonable and Beneficial Use Doctrine.”

“Because of the situation California always faces, it’s mandatory that there’s no wasteful or unreasonable use of water,” Callimanis said. “This meets the criteria of being … wasteful and unreasonable use.”

It is not just about water, noise and traffic, said Diane Rebryna, it is the request for zoning change to include tourist commercial that the citizens group, “La Quinta Residents for Responsible Development” most opposes, she told The Desert Sun.

Rebryna and Callimanis are members of that newly formed group, which they say has about 500 members “and growing.”

“The LQRRD position regarding no change in zoning is firm,” Rebryna said, adding such a change would open the door for more tourist commercial projects in an area zoned for residential use.

“It just doesn’t fit. It is the wrong project in the wrong location at the wrong time,” Rebryna said.

Simon said the developers have been working to create project that leaves a carbon footprint “that is as light as possible. The project needs to be extremely sustainable in every sense,” he said.

“We are committed to enhancing La Quinta’s international appeal as a destination through thoughtful, compatible design and innovative features that cater to an active, engaged lifestyle,” he said.

If approved, La Quinta would be the second community to have the Slater wave technology. The only other existing site with the same technology is the Surf Ranch Slater created in Lemoore. Another is planned in Austin, Texas.

Other surf parks planned

Coral Mountain Resort is one of at least four water developments that include surf or wave features planned in the Coachella Valley, each different from the others and planned with different wave technology.

  • The 14.6-acre DSRT Surf resort at Desert Willow in Palm Desert is planned to include a 5.5-acre competition level surf lagoon open to the public, plus resort hotel and residential villas. The project was approved by the City Council in 2018 and in April received a six-month extension to February 2022 from the council due to delays brought on by the pandemic.
  • The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the Thermal Beach Club, the largest of the planned surf park resorts, in October 2020. Plans call for a 20-acre surf lagoon and up to 326 homes in Thermal. An opening is expected sometime in 2023, according to WavePoolMag.com.
  • Palm Springs Surf Club was approved by the city’s Planning Commission in October 2019 for the former 21-acre Wet ‘n’ Wild water park site at 1500 S. Gene Autry Trail in Palm Springs. It had been scheduled to open by the end of 2020 is now expected to be completed in 2023, according to a December article in WavePoolMag.com.

Construction has not yet started on any.

Public comments due Aug. 6

The public can view the 738-page draft EIR at City Hall, 78-495 Calle Tampico, during regular business hours, or on the city’s website, at laquintaca.gov/thewave.

Comments should be submitted in writing by Aug. 6 to: Nicole Sauviat Criste, Consulting Planner, City of La Quinta, 78-495 Calle Tampico, La Quinta, CA 92253, or consultingplanner@laquintaca.gov.

The project is expected to go before the Planning Commission this fall, followed by the City Council.

If approved by the council, Simon said the financing is in place to begin construction on the $200 million project in the second quarter of 2022.

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at sherry.barkas@thedesertsun.com. Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas