There was an enticing rumor circulating around San Benito County in February that Google was about to buy Swank Farms. Bonnie Swank heard that rumor and said recently that there were two things wrong with it. First, Google wasn’t even in the picture. John Wynn, who bought Ridgemark Golf & Country Club last year, actually bought the land adjacent to San Felipe Road by the airport last January. Secondly, the land where Swank Farms has been growing crops for 40 years on 200 acres, and operating their corn maze for the past 17 years, did not belong to them. Swank Farms is actually located at the end of Acquistapace Road, off of Fairview Road.
“We knew the owner (Hugh Bickle) had the land zoned for commercial use and that he eventually planned to develop it (city council turned Bickle’s project down in December),” Swank said. “In October (2016) we got a phone call from him—we were thinking about extending our lease for another 10 years—and he says he’s got a buyer.”
Swank was told that Wynn wanted the Swanks to clear off the first 100 feet of land so he could start construction. She was told Wynn wanted to construct a manufacturing facility to build glass covers for cell phones.
“We did not sell the land. We did not make millions of dollars,” she joked. “Our lease is broken and we have to leave. We just keep moving things off the property and we have three more weeks to get all the buildings off.”
Swank said Wynn wants to start construction in May, which could not be confirmed because Wynn did not respond to phone calls. Swank said the operation is relocating to 21 acres of land along the frontage road of Highway 156 that they bought last year. The land is attached to the Swank’s 60-acre home ranch. They plan to continue operating a corn maze during the autumn.
“The great thing is, it’s located on the Pacheco Pass frontage road (4751 Pacheco Pass Highway), so everybody driving by sees it,” she said. “Because it’s our property, we’re going to expand. We plan on building a big barn, which is going to house our fudge shop and a restaurant. Instead of having our snack shack, we’re going to put in a certified kitchen, so we’ll have better food. We’re hoping to have a beer and wine bar. We also want a facility where we can have weddings and rent space for parties. We want this to be a year-round operation.”
Swank said once she got used to the idea they had to move, she realized it was a blessing in disguise.
“We own it and we’ll be able to make money off that property all year long,” she explained, “and be able to grow a more family-friendly business. We’ll be able to have farm-to-table dinners. We sell to a lot of chefs and have a lot of friends in the business. They’re always looking for places to come and go out in the fields to pick the produce to cook.”
She said they’re going through the permit process with the county because they have to put in a parking lot, a holding pond, and an above-ground septic system. The new business should be operational by October.
“We can’t put in an underground septic tank because the water table is too high,” she said. “You start digging down and the water just starts filling up the hole. So, we have to put in an above-ground septic system, which I’ve never heard of before, and it’s quite expensive. We have to do it or we’re not going to build what we want.”
Swank said people driving by on Highway 156 are already stopping when they spot the Swank’s familiar dinosaurs that have been relocated.
“People stop all the time to take pictures,” she said. “They’ve never been to Swank Farms. Three families recently stopped in one hour to take pictures with the dinosaurs.”
Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez was surprised to hear about the sale, but added that he was aware that Wynn had been trying for some time to bring to the area a development with partners from Asia.
“Building a facility to create products for the high-tech industry is a very important move,” Velazquez said. “We’ve been looking to make that area by the airport more of a tech center. This is part of the conversation we’ve been having over the last couple years to pay down debt so we could focus on the economic part by enticing companies to come here.”
The mayor said the city worked toward that by installing a fiber-optic cable in 2016.
“It gives us the backbone so when these companies are coming in the first thing they ask for is a fiber line,” he said. “It goes up to the airport and can be extended from that point.”
San Benito County Supervisor Mark Medina, who has been communicating with Wynn for some time, said even though the property is within city limits, he thinks the county should be willing to help in any way it can to smooth the development process. He said Wynn told him he doesn’t want to talk about the project before the city’s Environmental Impact Report is completed.
“I told him it’s in the city and even though I’m a county official I will still do anything I can to make sure we have a manufacturing facility here that will employ people in Hollister,” Medina said. “It’s important that we, as elected officials, welcome these people and help them as much as we can. From the county’s perspective, I will do everything I can to make sure there are no roadblocks.”
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