When The Wall Street Journal profiled San Benito County nearly four years ago in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the daily newspaper picked up a beat that seems just as newsworthy today, during the same Great Recovery: Local homebuilders envision expansion in and around Hollister, home of more than half of the county's nearly 60,000 residents.
By the end of the decade, according to local government officials and private developers, San Benito County plans to grow by thousands of housing units, welcoming new faces, couples and families to the re-growing community that just a few years ago was stuck in neutral as the result of a state-imposed sewer moratorium that ground development to a halt locally.
In the ongoing development of Santana Ranch, Anderson Homes now targets the completion of its first batch of the roughly 1,100 planned housing units there in the fall, when the local housing market expects 150 new homes ready for sales.
Michael Anderson, the vice president of sales with the Lodi company's office in Hollister, sees a bright future on Fairview Road, between Sunnyslope and Hillcrest roads near the eastern edge of the city.
"Road and site improvements are currently underway for the first 150 home sites at Santana Ranch," said Anderson in an emailed statement Feb. 23 to BenitoLink. "Anderson Homes plans to start model home construction this spring with the first homes available for move-in in the fall."
Anderson said that Anderson Homes expects homes on the ranch to individually range from 1,600 to 2,500 square feet and three to five bedrooms, and carry a price of $400,000 or more. Also, according to Anderson, longer-term plans for development include a number of key factors of a healthy community.
"In addition to residences, a variety of parks, a school site, and neighborhood commercial areas are envisioned for Santana Ranch," said Anderson.
The initial proposal for the project, approved by the county in 2010, laid out plans for an elementary school, along with 18 acres of parks, according to a previous report by BenitoLink. Of the more than 1,000 homes planned for Santana Ranch, 10 percent will offer housing for low-income families. The developer's original agreement with the county required the developer to build half of the low-income housing allotment by the time the first 500 units were built, according to BenitoLink.
News of residential development once again arrives in an area that grew at a historic pace in the 1990s. In the decade ended Apr. 1, 2000, San Benito County's population grew 45.1 percent, the fastest rate for the period among California's 58 counties, according to the United States Census Bureau. Between 2000 and 2013 — amid the nation's first housing bubble, Great Recession and ongoing recovery — that rate sank below 5 percent.
Growth remains dependent on jobs: Unemployment in San Benito County remains above the national average of 5.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in a report in January. From January 2011 through December 2014, however, the countywide jobless rate fell from 20.3 percent to 9.4 percent.
"One thing with residential construction, its market is based on demand," said William Avera, the city manager of Hollister, in a telephone interview with BenitoLink. "We have yet to see the big numbers that we saw prior to 2002, but residential construction is going on as we speak."
Beyond Santana Ranch, several projects have received the approval of local government agencies, though many of them have yet to break ground. Fairview Corners has received the county's blessing for 220 units, according to San Benito County Interim Planning Director Byron Turner. The project, according to a previous report by BenitoLink, is expected to take shape alongside the proposed Gavilan College San Benito campus across the street from the main entrance to Ridgemark Golf & Country Club.
Across the county, according to Avera, there's a focus on economic development, which extends far beyond residential.
"In Hollister, we probably have close to 500,000 or 600,000 acres available for investorial growth — R&D-type growth," said Avera. "We're working on what could be a pretty big deal right now. Hopefully, it comes to fruition."