For months, the Hollister City Council has been consistently split when it comes to housing developments. Votes have followed a 3-2 divide, with councilmembers Carol Lenoir, Marty Richman, and Honor Spencer on one side, and Rolan Resendiz and Mayor Ignacio Velazquez on the other.
That changed at a Dec. 2 meeting when all five members declined to make a motion regarding a housing development west of Fairview Road, leaving its fate uncertain.
The City Hall chambers went eerily silent when Velazquez asked for a motion to approve a subdivision improvement agreement for the Award Homes housing development. All council members stared straight ahead for a long uncomfortable moment.
“The item is dead for a lack of a motion,” Velazquez said in nearly a whisper. He did not ask if anyone wanted to make another motion, and no one spoke up to offer one.
The improvement agreement would have conditionally approved a residential development on 125.9 acres consisting of 517 single-family homes, 60 garden homes and 100 apartments. The subdivision would be built in five phases, with the first phase consisting of 99 single-family units and one multi-family lot. Ground-prepping work began in October.
While the resolution may be dead for now, any council member can bring it back for a future vote because no one voted against it. But according to Richman, this is not likely to happen.
“It’s a bad development for Hollister,” he said at the meeting. “It’s in the wrong place, it’s the wrong size, the design is 20 years old and I don’t like anything about it.”
Award Homes has owned the land west of Fairview for more than 20 years. It has remained fallow through a building moratorium and a recession, even as the company has been embroiled in a legal battle with Hollister and San Benito County over annexation fees and a tax-sharing agreement since 2015. Richman believes the company has little choice but to go back to court and sue. “They’ll win,” he said.
The 2015 lawsuit claimed annexation fees imposed by the county and collected by the city were illegal and a “thinly veiled tax.” After Award Homes lost the suit and appealed, San Benito Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias ruled in favor of the defendants—San Benito County and Hollister—in 2017. That decision is now under appeal, according to Paul Rovella of JRG Attorneys at Law, which provides legal representation for the city.
Jim Sullivan, a private consultant for Award Homes, said at the meeting that while he has been involved with the project there has been extensive effort to meet state and federal wildlife habitat requirements. He said the company spent over $2 million to purchase mitigation land elsewhere for habitat for California Tiger Salamanders, even though there was no evidence any existed on the land to be developed.
Sullivan said he’s not clear what Richman meant when he said the project is old. Sullivan said he has worked with city planners on the final map for more than two years with several improvements, including the extension of Union Road to Fairview Road. He also said the company has met all indemnification requirements the city has asked for.
“I want to reiterate for the council there was a development agreement entered into some time ago,” he said. “Two aspects of that development agreement that are pertinent for this first final map is a payment of $250,000 for fire protection at the discretion of the city, as well as a $500,000 payment within 10 days of the final map payable to the city.”
Sullivan told BenitoLink on Dec. 4 that Award Homes was considering its options in moving forward.
The original development agreement between Hollister and Award Homes was adopted in October 2000. Further agreements were adopted in 2004, 2007 and 2012. In the 2019 agreement, the developer agreed to make improvements to the area at a minimum cost of $14.7 million and pay $603,000 in engineering fees to the city.
Richman voiced opposition to the project.
“Because of the laws of the state of California, we may be stuck with this and that would be too bad because it’s not a good development,” he said, referring to state mandates for affordable housing because of the shortage throughout the state.
Lenoir agreed that the development might be outdated, but questioned Richman about what other use could be made of the land besides residential. Richman didn’t have an answer, but said, “I don’t think I’m in a position to bargain with anybody, so I’m not going to propose any changes.”
Lenoir told BenitoLink after the meeting that she is not necessarily against the development.
“But I think after sitting for 17 years it might not be a bad idea to look it over,” she said in an email. “I like to think we are doing smarter development these days with our overlay zoning. Plus, energy requirements have changed. Our park land dedication has increased. I would like to see some or all of the streets be private. I also would like to review all sound walls and landscape/open space areas. Frankly, I need to study this map more.”
The lack of a motion seemed to surprise most council members.
Velazquez said the turn of events was odd. He told BenitoLink by text, “I guess Marty and the clan is finally starting to agree with us [him and Resendiz] on growth. But then again, they did vote to approve another annexation [earlier in the meeting], so who knows.”
Said Resendiz: “We all had a hard time following what was going on. We’re so used to it being a 3-2 vote for houses. I was waiting for Lenoir to make a motion. Then I was thrown off and wondered what was going to happen. Then Honor said ‘I don’t know,’ like she didn’t know what to do either. I think their daddy threw them under the bus. They were lost without him.”
“I am sure there is going to be much discussion,” Lenoir said, “but in the end, it will be the three of us carrying the burden and having to answer to the angry residents while the mayor and Rolan skate with their ‘no’ votes.”
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