Government / Politics

Planning Commission approves initial map for 84-unit Bennett Ranch development on Southside Road

As development of Bennett Ranch subdivision in Hollister, along with much larger Brigantino subdivision, moves forward Planning Commission questions need for parks.

The San Benito County Planning Commission approved Nov. 12 the continuation of the tentative subdivision map of a proposed 26-acre housing development at 3061 Southside Road in Hollister that will include 84 single-family homes. The development, known as the Bennett Ranch Project, will be made up of lots that range from 7,200 to 14,000 square feet. In compliance with the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan, Bennett Ranch will have fewer than 120 units and no park is planned for the project.

Taven Kinison Brown, with the Resource Management Agency Planning Department, told the five-member commission the agenda item was a continuation from Sept. 20 commission meeting to address a number of outstanding items, including affordable housing fee offer, right-of-way issues, compliance with the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan, and access to public water and sewer services. Records of service have already been filed so the development will receive water from the Sunnyslope Water District and sewer service from the City of Hollister.

Brown said since the Sept. 20 meeting the developer had proceeded with its due diligence with the Parks and Recreation Commission for its recommendation on park locations and how fees should be paid. He said the applicant’s obligation for the number of units would be to provide a 1.26-acre public park space. However, he explained, county code states that if the units generate a park of less than two acres the applicant should pay in lieu fees rather than build a park.

“There’s a general hesitance in the creation of these real small pocket parks in the county that might create maintenance issues over time,” Brown said. “If the applicant wishes to, he is still free to provide park space, but it’s not required in the code.”

Brown explained further that Parks and Recreation wondered how people would access existing recreation facilities. He said Parks and Recreation considered the River Parkway (design approved in 2012), but were concerned about safety issues at the intersection of Southside and Hospital Roads. He addressed the concerns for residents of Bennett Ranch who might cross Southside Road to make their way down to River Parkway if there were no signs or road striping.

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Brown said the applicant had offered to pay $10,000 toward signage and striping in addition to the payment in lieu fees. He said the applicant had agreed to pay the in lieu fees based on the value of the 1.26-acre park. Commissioner Jean Zlotkin said she believed the Brigantino development across the street from the Bennett Ranch development had set aside five acres for a park, which could be available to Bennett Ranch residents.

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Brown commented that the five-acre park would be located on the west side of the Brigantino development, along the river bank, parallel to the anticipated River Trail. Zlotkin asked whether Parks and Recreation had done any coordination regarding parks in the two developments. Brown said they had not, but there might be consideration in building parking areas so people could drive along Hospital Road to the park and trail rather than walk cross Southside Road. Commissioner Ray Pierce, who commented that he helped write the park master plan when he was a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said there is a trailhead on the west side of the Brigantino development that the commission had asked Brigantino to connect to the existing parkway.

“The River Park Trail is for horses, bicycles and pedestrians,” Pierce said. “The problem is we don’t own any of the land along the river for the trail. We hope that happens in the future. We did address the pedestrian access of the Brigantino (development), down to that park. So there is easy access.”

Pierce said there was concern, though, if a bridge were to be built over the San Benito River at Hospital Road that would create a new traffic pattern at the Hospital Road and Southside Road intersection, which could create more risk for pedestrians. He asked Brown when the bridge would be built; Brown was not aware of a completion date. Zlotkin was concerned that once people were living in the Bennett Ranch subdivision they should actually have a park they could go to. She said the in lieu fee was one thing, but wanted to know if there were a contingency in the development agreement for a park close to the subdivision. Brown responded that would be up to the county, and then pointed out a glaring irony regarding parks.

“The project is 84 units and it generates 1.26 acres (for a park); it’s not until it generates two acres worth of land area for a park that it becomes a decision of Parks and Recreation to recommend to you whether they should be provided on-site, split 50-50 in fees, or all in lieu fees,” he said. “What that means is when we have individual subdivision proposals it’s about 120 units until you generate two acres worth of parks requirement. So, if we have an 80-unit, a 90-unit, a 105-unit development, what happens is you have 300 units constructed with no parks and only in lieu fees.”

He said the county needs to consider if it wants new parks or fees to pay for existing facilities or to buy property along the river. Pierce said it was his understanding that the in lieu fees are already earmarked for parks and will not go into the General Fund to be used for other projects. He said the fees are being used to improve parks, but because of a lack of new developments required to pay mitigation fees for parks there is not enough money to build new parks.

The remainder of the discussion involved access roads and right-of-way for the seller of the Bennett Ranch property who owns additional property along a hillside to the east that he does not intend to develop, but wants to continue to have access. Brown said there also remained the issue that the development did not meet a General Plan requirement that 30 percent of the development needs to be dedicated to high-density lots or eight units per acre, which reduces the smallest lots in the development from 7,000 square feet to 5,200 square feet. He compared the Bennett Ranch development to the Brigantino development that is devoting 40 percent to high-density housing.

“There’s kind of an incongruity, if you’re out in the country and all of a sudden you have the urban design standard, but when you have public access to water and sewage that’s the way the General Plan is written,” he said. “If you don’t have public sewer or water the code would allow one- or even two and a half-acre lots because you’re using septic and wells rather than the public system.”

He recommended that the commission remove the 30-percent standard, but warned in doing so it would possibly create another irony because another subdivision development that has been working its way through the approval process for a number of years would have an average lot size of 10,000 square feet. He said having been in the office only six months, he needed guidance from the commission on how to be respectful of the history and the efforts the projects have had while at the same time trying to reconcile the language of the General Plan.

“To ask an applicant at this late hour to redraw and redo all their performance sheets is a big deal,” Brown said. “It’s not to be taken lightly, but we need some direction because if it’s not the one in the process right now, there’s going to be one behind it and I’ll need to know how to apply the General Plan.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]