The nine-story Granada Theatre could soon get usurped as the tallest inhabited building in the county if the Chumash Casino Resort expands to include (among other features) a new 12-story hotel wing. The tribe’s plans, presented in its 556-page environmental analysis released earlier this month, envision a hotel tower that would offer 215 new rooms (in addition to the existing hotel’s 106), a rooftop pool deck, conference room, and restaurant. It would come with an additional 75,000 square feet of gaming space and administrative offices, as well as a new five-story parking garage for an extra 584 spots (in addition to the resort’s existing 1,957 spaces).
The current four-story hotel and three-story casino would also get a facelift, including a buffet and food court. Under the plans — which were first floated several months ago and have changed slightly since — the resort would still be limited to 2,000 gaming machines, as the tribe’s contract with the state, up for renewal in 2020, doesn’t allow beyond that. The growth, as the tribe stated in its assessment, is meant to ease “overcrowding and circulation issues.” Construction could start as soon as this fall.
But some Santa Ynez Valley activists are crying foul over the plans, citing significant issues with the height of the hotel tower — given its proximity to the airport — and allocating water resources — especially in a time of drought — to the anticipated 1,200 extra visitors per day. Tribal chair Vincent Armenta said the tribe couldn’t build the hotel out rather than up, as much of the reservation is already developed, but he added that the building is “well below the flight path.” (A representative for the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t return requests for comment.)
The Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District currently supplies the resort with 22,600 gallons of water per day, but the tribe estimates it will need an extra 35,700 gallons per day when the new design is realized; whether the district would be able to meet that demand at this time remains uncertain. If it couldn’t, the analysis stated, the tribe could get its additional water via four existing wells on the reservation. That plan presents twofold concerns, activists said. One, they alleged, if the tribe asserts its rights to groundwater underneath the reservation — surface-water rights are granted based on a long-standing federal case — it could set a precedent statewide. Two, the project sits within the Uplands Basin, which provides water to many valley residents. Armenta cautioned that the federal rights “are not unlimited.”
Citizens and county officials have until August 14 to submit comments to the tribal leaders, who will respond in a final environmental document. One public hearing is planned for Thursday, July 31, at 6 p.m. at the casino’s Samala Showroom. Comments can also be mailed to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Attn: Vincent Armenta, Tribal Chairman, PO Box 517, Santa Ynez, CA 93460.