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The San Benito County Planning Commission on Nov. 1 issued a notice of preparation for an environmental impact report for a proposed project at the Hwy 129 and Searle Road intersection.
According to the presentation by Bill Wiseman with Kimley-Horn & Associates, the firm hired by the county to prepare the EIR, the project, known as San Benito Ag Center, will sit on 21.25 acres, of which 16.43 acres will be developed. It consists of three main structures totaling 42,450 square feet:
- A 16,450-square-foot convenience store and food hall including a fast food restaurant, showers, laundry and restrooms for truckers; meeting space and other “public benefit space.” Wiseman said the meeting rooms can be used by the farming community free of charge and that a farmworker center is intended to provide onsite health services.
- A 12,500-square-foot truck service building intended for minor repairs.
- A 13,500-square foot cold storage building to enable local growers to have a transfer area where their product can be transported to different destinations.
Wiseman said the cold storage building is included because many trucks park and idle on the roadside near Taylor Farms in order to keep products cold, emitting carbon dioxide while waiting for a pickup/drop off appointment.
The project will also provide refueling services for trucks and automobiles with eight renewable diesel fuel stations and two compressed natural gas stations for trucks, and 10 fueling stations for vehicles. It also proposes electric vehicle recharging stations for autos and trucks as well as a hydrogen fuel facility.
Among the concerns of four speakers were the potential for water contamination because of the proposed septic tank and underground gas tanks; law enforcement in the area given the several residences within a mile of the project; and traffic and potential economic impacts to San Juan Bautista.
Commissioner Robert Scagliotti said there is a state law that requires all fuel tanks to be above ground and that he wanted all runoff water to be contained within the project area.
The project includes parking for 105 trucks and 58 cars for a total of 163 uncovered parking spaces, 20 loading spaces for the cold storage building and six parking spaces for recreational vehicles. Parking includes electric auxiliary power unit hookups for trucks to park and turn off their engine while keeping the refrigerated unit cold.
According to the agenda packet, access for trucks will be from Hwy 129, with an exit onto a new two-lane truck-only access road connecting to Searle Road. Two separate driveways from Searle Road will provide site access for automobile traffic. Searle Road and Hwy 129 will be improved as part of the project.
It also states the project would operate 24 hours per day, 365 days a year.
Wiseman said the project is in its initial stages of the environmental review process. The EIR analyzes aspects of the project such as measures to reduce or avoid impacts to the environment, technical details of the project and different project alternatives. The purpose of the notice of preparation meeting was to get input on issues that need to be analyzed.
According to the agenda packet, the 30-day public comment period for the notice of preparation for the EIR began Oct. 20 and ends Nov. 20.
Wiseman said the notice of preparation is followed by public scoping meetings and agency consultation. He said the next step is to prepare and revise an administrative draft EIR, then publish a draft EIR for a minimum of 45 days for public comment, followed by preparing responses to those comments in the final EIR before publishing the final EIR for 10 days before the planning commission considering the project.
According to the agenda packet, the project site is not in active agricultural use but is annually plowed or mowed to control weeds.
The project site has a General Plan Land Use Designation of Commercial Regional which is defined by the county as, “to provide areas that function as destinations for commercial activity serving the regional population. This designation intends to accommodate the location of commercial uses at key intersections along Interstate 101 and other major State Routes. Permitted uses could include shopping centers, truck and automobile stations, tourist-serving commercial uses, and hotels/motels.”
SR129/Searle Rd is part of four properties designated in the county’s general plan, which serves as the blueprint from growth, as commercial nodes along highway 101. The other three properties are known as Livestock 101, Rocks Ranch and Betabel Road. The properties have been the focus of referendums and lawsuits (Betabel and SR129/Searle Rd) as part of efforts from local activists to block rezoning from rural/agriculture/rangeland to commercial. When rezoning was first approved in 2019, only Livestock 101 had an existing commercial zone designation.
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