The San Benito County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) approved the annexation of 49.5 acres from unincorporated county land to the city of Hollister for future development. The annexed parcels of land are located between North Chappell Road and Highway 25.
The annexation passed Jan. 10 on a 3-2 vote of the LAFCO board, which is comprised of representatives from county jurisdictions. San Juan Bautista Councilman Dan DeVries, San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho and citizen representative Richard Bettencourt voted in favor of the annexation, while Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz opposed it. Velazquez took to social media in the days leading up to the vote to state his opposition to the annexation and proposed development.
According to the meeting agenda packet, the parcels are classified as prime farmland in the State’s Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program because it has the best soil quality. “Land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and is also available for these uses,” according to the USDA. This means the developer is required to place conservation easements on farmland at a 1-1 ratio or pay an equivalent in-lieu fee.
The commission also added 102.1 acres to Hollister’s sphere of influence, which is expected to be annexed at a later date. An environmental impact report estimates a maximum of 802 residential units and 303,000 square feet of commercial space could be developed in the area.
According to the agenda packet, the purpose of the sphere of influence, which remains under county services, is to identify property where growth in services or population is anticipated. The agenda packet states the area is expected to be fully built out by 2025.
LAFCO Executive Officer Bill Nicholson told BenitoLink the development estimate was based on water projections, but he expects development to take longer.
Before DeVries made a motion to approve the annexation, he asked for clarification on what project was being approved or whether it was just the annexation.
Nicholson said the project is the potential development of the 102.1 acres of sphere of influence, which would be up to eight units per acre.
Four residents spoke against the annexation, including Hollister Councilman Rolan Resendiz, who in recent days said he was against the annexation on social media.
Resident Tom Stirewalt cited traffic issues near the annexed parcels and said future development would rely heavily on either Maple Street or Chappell Road to enter or leave the neighborhood.
“I’m adamantly opposed to this even though it’s within the sphere of influence of the city,” Stirewalt said. “There needs to be more roads, wider roads…”
Dawn Koistinen said she is concerned about the already high traffic with new development, Maple Park, in progress on the corner of North Chappell Road and Maple Street.
Koistinen also read from a letter by California Highway Patrol Captain S.E. Parker in the EIR arguing against further residential development along Highway 25 “unless significant road improvements are made.”
Although voters approved Measure G to widen Highway 25, there won’t be any changes to the road in the next seven years, Koistinen said, and building homes for commuters won’t help the issue.
“Our streets are already heavily traveled,” she continued. “I don’t know if you ever drive down Maple Street, but it’s like a raceway.”
Victor Gomez, president of local lobbying firm Pinnacle Strategy and a former Hollister City Council member, spoke in favor of the annexation as a representative of annexation applicants Charles Davidson, Brigantino Family Farms LLC, J&V Brigantino Family LP and Pad Investment Trust. He provided a timeline of the applicants’ process.
In that timeline, Gomez said the Hollister City Council unanimously adopted a resolution in April 2015 to approve the prezone application of more than 31 acres, essentially initiating the annexation process. Gomez noted Mayor Velazquez’s vote to support the resolution at the time.
Gomez said the planned development was an infill project with the Highway 25 bypass in place and that the area was marked for new homes in the city’s general plan since at least 1995.
Velazquez responded after public comment, saying that Gomez is now a lobbyist for the developer. He also called the annexation a major mistake.
“I’m not against growth,” he said. “I’m actually pro growth. The problem is I’m 100 percent against stupid growth.”
Gomez told BenitoLink on Jan. 16 that he was hired by the property owners to navigate the project through the entitlement process to get a tentative map approved. Once the map has been approved, owners can sell the property to a developer or complete the project themselves, he said.
Resident Richard Ferreira said all the acreage included in the increase of the sphere of influence should also be annexed because the city is not growing fast enough. He said the city needs to catch up from the the eight-year building moratorium that took place in the early 2000s that stopped commercial and residential growth.
“Commercial developers continue to tell us they don’t come here because we don’t have enough rooftops,” Ferreira said. He added that the city cannot survive only on impact fees, and that sales tax revenues are needed.
Bettencourt, the citizen representative on the LAFCO board, said he questioned staff with the same concerns that residents brought up. He said if they stop growth within the Hollister sphere of influence, it will take place elsewhere in the county, which he believes is a bad option. For that reason, he supported the annexation.
Commissioner De La Cruz said he opposed the annexation because of concerns from the neighboring community and because the Maple Park project created traffic and quality of life issues for those residents.
Velazquez made the first motion to deny the annexation, but failed on a 2-3 vote with De La Cruz being the other yes.