The San Benito County Planning Commission approved reducing the zoning boundaries of two proposed commercial nodes along Highway 101, restricted land use and added a requirement for proof of sustainable water at its Sept. 4 meeting. Final approval will be sought from the San Benito County Board of Supervisors later this month.
The commission initially approved zoning changes to four nodes as part of the 2035 county General Plan at its May 15 meeting. The nodes, known as Betabel, Route/129 Searle Road, Rocks Ranch and 101 Livestock, totaling 327 acres. About a dozen residents turned out at that meeting to speak against the rezoning over concerns of increased traffic, depleted water supply and loss of agricultural land. Preserve Our Rural Community (PORC), a group of area residents working to protect rural communities in San Benito County, opposes the zoning changes and protested the action on July 19 at the San Juan Road overpass.
The changes approved Sept. 4 were based on public concerns, as well as comments made by the Planning Commission, county planner Darryl Boyd said. Among those changes are reducing the Betabel node from 55 acres to 29. The Route 129/Searle Road node dropped from 40 acres to 33.
“Those were both reduced largely because there is prime farmland around the edges of those nodes and in front of those nodes,” Boyd said during his presentation.
One member of the public spoke in favor of the zoning change for the Betabel node. Betabel RV Park General Manager Frank Paura said there are a lot of people who pull into the RV park looking for gas. The node would be a great way for people to be introduced to San Benito County, he said, and show what it has to offer while creating more jobs.
San Juan Bautista resident Jackie Morris wasn’t sold on the job creation aspect of the potential projects. She said while there are letters in support of the rezoning because the developments would create jobs, those jobs are not what is needed in San Juan Bautista.
Morris said the jobs that will be created in the hospitality, restaurant and maintenance industries are not going to help residents buy a house in San Juan Bautista, which she said averages $650,000.
Principal Planner Tavin Kinison Brown clarified that the decision to approve the zoning changes does not put “a stick in the ground,” and that any specific development must present a master development proposal for approval.
Several members of the public, including a letter from attorney Mark Wolfe representing PORC, urged the Planning Commission to conduct a new environmental impact review before approving the zoning changes. The last one was in 2015.
Commissioner Robert Eggers asked if there was a shelf life for the EIR. Michael Groves, president of EMC Planning Group, said there was not.
“What you’re doing is assessing them for their adequacy of what they analyzed at the time to what you’re doing now,” Groves said.
Groves also said the 2015 EIR generally analyzed the 101 Livestock node, as well as other properties not included in the original four nodes.
According to the development standards section of the draft ordinance, residential and “caretaker” units are limited to 30 units per node. Groves said those units are not restricted to employees unless the county wanted to add those restrictions.
“There is a real need for housing and if you can house some people on site that work there, I think it’s a big advantage,” Groves said. “Now whether they turn out to be that or they turn to be apartments, there’s still a big demand for that as well in the community.”
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