Time is up for Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez to file a lawsuit to stop development on the grassy downtown lot commonly referred to as the 400 block, according to City Manager Bill Avera. The deadline to file was July 10.
After the Hollister City Council voted 3-1 on June 3 to pass a resolution upholding the Planning Commission’s approval for a minor subdivision and conditional use permit for a mixed-use project on the 400 block, Velazquez told BenitoLink that he would most likely sue.
On July 8, Velazquez said he still had more time to file, but would not say how much longer. Since then he has not responded to requests for comment on if he still intends to sue the city.
According to Avera, Velazquez had 35 days from June 5 to file the lawsuit over possible California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) concerns. He said that each day prior to the deadline, Program Manager Mary Paxton would go to San Benito County Superior Court to see if it had been filed. Developers are moving forward and Paxton is coordinating with them in preparation for issuing building permits, Avera said.
Even though it has not been filed locally, the city manager said that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been filed somewhere else.
“They can file in another jurisdiction,” Avera said. “It wouldn’t be smart, but they could.”
If Velazquez’s attorneys did file before the deadline in another jurisdiction, Avera said he assumed the city would know within days. There is no record of the filing at San Benito County Superior Court and still no word from the attorneys as of July 23, Avera said. When the city contacted Velazquez’s attorneys to ask whether they had filed the suit, Avera said, “The attorneys gave instructions that we shouldn’t call.”
The mayor has sought over the past three years to halt development on the grassy plot of land on the corner of Fourth and San Benito streets. He has used social media to garner local support and worked to place the decision before voters to stop the joint project of the Del Curto Brothers Group and the Community Foundation for San Benito County that includes retail space, 22 condominiums, and a philanthropic center for the foundation and local nonprofits. In April 2018, Attorney General Xavier Becerra concluded that the resolution passed by the council to approve selling the property for development could not be subject to a referendum.
Gary Byrne, CEO and president of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, spoke with BenitoLink about the project and lawsuit. He said nothing has changed about the lawsuit, as far as he knows, adding that the City Council has already given the green light for the project.
“The Del Curto Brothers are in the process of doing due diligence and all the plans have been submitted to the city,” he said. “The next thing the city is going to request is encroachment permits so we can actually start moving dirt. We’re excited that we’re moving forward and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Byrne said the developers have done everything the city has required of them and that they’ve complied with all the rules and regulations.
“Now it’s time to move on and just get it built,” he said. “It’s been delayed nearly two years.”
After the July 10 filing deadline, Byrne said he reached out to Velazquez, who is currently on his annual family road trip.
“Will there be a lawsuit over the 400 block?” Byrne asked the mayor. “If the answer is no, could we meet when you get home?”
He said Velazquez initially responded and asked if the foundation would pay property taxes for the life of the building. Byrne responded that it would. Since then, he has not heard back from Velazquez.
“I’m trying to be a good neighbor,” Byrne said. “We’re going to have a building right next to his [The Vault] as long as he owns it. He’s got a right to make a living, putting on functions and parties. Ours is going to be predominantly during the day, but it will be available during weekends for nonprofits to have their events in our building. We just want to make sure we have good relationships with whoever our neighbor is.”
He said in talks with the city, the developers hope to have the property transferred to them by mid-September.
“My understanding is that it will take 12 months for construction on the Community Foundation Philanthropic Center. Six months into that, the Del Curto Brothers will start working on the condos and retail space. So, when we’re all finished, they will be six to nine months behind us.”
Although Velazquez may have been dealt his last card, others could attempt to stop the project through their own lawsuits.
“It’s true that anyone can sue,” Avera said. “However, of the issues that were brought up in the appeal, it became more limited to CEQA concerns, and that should be off the table.”
BenitoLink asked members of the Hollister City Council to comment for this story. Only Honor Spencer responded.
“I can only hope that the mayor does not go through with his threat,” she said. “This would be very detrimental to our community and the trust for elected officials.”
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