Nomads Lodge plans to offer six rooms and food and transportation packages to surfers from around the world who want to visit Trestles and other local surf spots.

SAN CLEMENTE – A plan to turn a vacant commercial downtown space into a tourist lodge to host surfers from around the world has won the Planning Commission’s conditional blessing.

On a 5-1 vote Wednesday night, commissioners approved a permit to allow Jeff Gourley, owner of Nomads Canteen at 102 Avenida Cabrillo, to remodel one side of the building into a six-room Nomads Lodge.

Article Tab: This is how a six-room surf lodge could look at 101 Avenida Serra in downtown San Clemente.
This is how a six-room surf lodge could look at 101 Avenida Serra in downtown San Clemente.

Nomads’ vision

Here’s how Jeff Gourley, owner of Nomads Canteen, describes his plan to convert one side of the building to Nomads Lodge, a six-room motel:

“My clientele travel the world, stay in places that are similar to this in concept … there’s a restaurant, a hotel, they take you surfing and they take care of you.

“The plan is essentially to market heavily to Europe, Japan, Australia and bring people in so they might come for a week.

“Our motto is ‘Check in for a week, check out a better surfer.’

“We pick them up … they’ve got no need for a car … we provide surf training, surf equipment, bicycle rentals, transportation to and from the surf breaks as well as via boat.

“The building – that side of it – it’s really ugly. I took an eyesore on the other side and am the only successful business … there in the last five or 10 years. We have 33 employees. We’ve done quite well there.

“I anticipate that the beautification of the Serra side will make everybody in the neighborhood happy, more so than any parking problems that we’re going to cause.”

The commission’s approval isn’t final until ratified by the City Council.

In 2012, Gourley turned the Avenida Cabrillo site, which had repeatedly changed hands in recent years, into a vibrant surf-themed restaurant and bar. Now he wants to build on that by attracting surfers from around the world to stay in a lodge on the side of the building that fronts Avenida Serra.

A van would pick up visitors at the train station, airports and other locations, and Nomads would lodge them for, say, a week while shuttling them to Trestles and other surf spots. Meals at Nomads Canteen would be offered as part of the package.

Gourley said he also plans a surf school and hopes to host traveling surf teams.

The lodge’s potential maximum occupancy for the square footage is 49 guests, though Gourley said he expects it to be much less.

Commissioners said they liked the concept but had concerns about parking and possible effects on the neighborhood of guests partying at the lodge or the restaurant. Nomads Canteen serves some of its patrons on an outdoor deck facing Avenida Cabrillo and has a special-events permit that allows indoor live music while setting limits on the outdoor service.

As a condition of approval, commissioners stipulated that they will call up the lodge’s permit for review 12 months after it opens if city staff sees complications.

Such a review would not include parking. Because the building predates the city’s 1956 parking code and the lodge site has been vacant more than a year, local code exempts it from having to meet ordinary parking requirements. Eighteen spaces normally would be required for the restaurant and lodge, but it can make do with the 10 spaces Nomads Canteen already has, City Planner Jim Pechous said.

Gourley said he doesn’t expect parking problems because guests will arrive in his van and be shuttled around in it.

“We don’t want people in cars,” he said. “We want them … buying my food and beer, going with our surf instructors, buying (surf) photographs. … We’re going to have bicycle tours, stand-up paddleboard lessons, the whole kind of tourist package.”

Commissioner Donald Brown said it’s a unique concept that can benefit the downtown area.

“It’s a building that needs some help, and the applicant is going to do that,” he said.

A new facade on the lodge facing Avenida Serra will be a significant improvement, Commissioner Julia Darden said.

Commissioner Wayne Eggleston called it a “wonderful concept” but voted against it, concerned about parking and the maximum occupancy.

Commissioner Kathleen Ward said the lodge fits the goals for downtown in a new San Clemente General Plan. She said she wants to review any noise or occupancy issues after the lodge is up and running, “just to make sure it’s OK.”