The Hollister Planning Commission delayed its approval of the tentative map and conditional use permit for development on the 400 block of San Benito Street after receiving a letter from Mayor Ignacio Velazquez opposing the project.
The letter, sent via email by Robert Perlmutter of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP representing the mayor, cites density limits, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review requirements, and exempted development impact fees as reasons for opposing the project.
During the Feb. 28 meeting, city planner Abraham Prado asked commissioners to revisit the item at the March 28 meeting to allow them to review the concerns raised by Velazquez. He said staff received the letter a little after 4 p.m., less than two hours before commissioners met at 6 p.m. Commissioners said they received it around 5:30 p.m.
At the meeting, Commissioner Roxanne Stephens said she had concerns even before she read the letter.
“I think it would be prudent if we waited until next month so we have a little more time,” Stephens said.
Velazquez told BenitoLink the timing of the letter was not an attempt to delay the item. He said he hired Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger to look into the rules he believed were being broken for the project. Velazquez owns the Vault building next to the 400 block and has long opposed the current plans for development. He has recused himself from votes concerning the 400 block.
“It must be redesigned to comply with the city of Hollister’s land use regulations,” the letter states.
Development plans include constructing a new headquarters for the Community Foundation for San Benito County and other local nonprofits, as well as a mixed-use building featuring commercial retail on the first floor and residential condo units on the second and third floors.
According to the mayor’s letter, the Planning Commission cannot approve development on the 400 block of San Benito Street because it violates the city’s density limits in the city code and general plan. It states that the 22 residential units proposed exceed the 40 units per acre allowed by city code; that code would only allow 11 units to be built on the site.
The letter states that since the nonprofit headquarters and the mixed-use building are different projects on separate parcels, development units cannot be transferred between them. The parcel where the mixed-use building is set to be constructed is 12,535 square feet. The letter states the development’s unit calculation is based on the combined 19,655 square feet of the 400 block, which Prado confirmed.
“Allowing such a transfer would undermine the city’s strict limits on development density so that any property in the DMU [Downtown Commercial Mixed Use] zone that was not built to its maximum density could allow excess development elsewhere by transferring unused units to other properties,” the letter states.
Prado told BenitoLink that the 400 block project is allowed to build 22 residential units because of a density bonus, meaning some units are planned to be affordable housing. As for the mayor’s letter, Prado said that in addition to being reviewed by planning commissioners and city staff, it will also be reviewed by the city attorney.
Velazquez’s letter also states the 400 block project should not be exempt from a CEQA review because it “conflicts with Hollister’s land use policies, the project’s effects on traffic, noise and air quality, and the loss of significant open space in downtown Hollister."
According to the CEQA website, class 2 exemptions consist of replacing or reconstruction of buildings in the same site where the new buildings “will have substantially the same purpose and capacity as the structure replaced.”
The letter also took issue with the mixed-use building being exempt from development impact fees. The city justifies this exemption, the letter states, by claiming that commercial buildings previously occupied the site, however “there is no evidence that these long-ago demolished buildings paid any fees to the city that could somehow mitigate the project’s future impacts to public facilities and services.”
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