Business / Economy

San Juan Bautista City Council approves final phase of Rancho Vista development

SJB approved final phases in development after hours of discussion on outstanding items. City manager is working with residents and developer to resolve issues of concern.

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink Intern Staff Reporter.

The San Juan Bautista City Council approved on a 4-1 vote the Final Subdivision Map for the last phases of the Rancho Vista housing development during a special session on June 26.

Issues raised in the meeting included the location of the north-facing wall, the material used to construct the wall, privacy concerns over the location of a two-story house, and a drainage system that was installed.

The approval of the final map allows development of 38 remaining lots of the 86 total project.

The decision came after the City Council’s 3-1 vote (Councilman Dan DeVries was absent) to move the topic from the June 19 regular meeting to the June 26 special meeting. The council, the public, and a representative from Meritage Homes spent nearly an hour discussing outstanding items in the development agreement before the vote was taken.

One of Vice Mayor John Freeman’s main concerns was who was financially responsible for widening Third Street. At the June 26 meeting, Mark Currington, forward planning manager for Meritage Homes, said, “the applicants are to contribute its fair share of the cost to widen Third Street from 240 feet west of North Street to the North Street intersection.”

Freeman said he was worried about traffic congestion on Third Street.

“We cannot have a one-way street with 80 houses and you’re going to have 160 cars,” Freeman said. “And then there’s going to be D’Ambrosio and that’s going to be another 40 cars and your going to try to cram that down Third Street?”

Currington said that Meritage is responsible for 52 feet of the sidewalk in the southeast corner of Third Street and Church Street, and 87 feet southwest of the same corner.

Another concern left from the June 19 meeting was roundabouts. There was confusion regarding the number of roundabouts and their locations in the plans.

Currington clarified at the June 26 meeting that Meritage is required to build the roundabout on First Street, but would like to work with the city to determine if it’s viable to construct.

John Bayless, vice president of land acquisition for Meritage Homes, said there was concern that the roundabout was too small to function as a traffic deterrent.

Another issue that precipitated the June 26 special meeting was San Juan Bautista resident Matthew Manning’s claim that the north-facing wall of the Rancho Vista subdivision was constructed in the wrong location.

At the June 26 meeting, Bayless said the grading plan showed the wall on the property line.

“The detail that wasn’t referenced on the grading plan was different than what it shows on the grading plan,” he said, adding that the detail showed a nine-foot setback into the property.

John Fair of the city-hired engineering firm Harris and Associates said, by request from City Manager Michaele LaForge, that he examined the improvement plans regarding the location of the wall. He also said he walked the site while the wall was being constructed in November and December 2017 and wasn’t aware there was a dispute over the location of the wall until comments were made during a recent meeting. He said according to documents the wall should be on the property line. He believed the detail was a “talking point,” but was left on the plans by mistake.  

The city contracted Harris and Associates in November 2017 as city engineers. The city renewed the six-month contract with the firm for another year ending in June 2019, deputy city clerk Trish Paetz said.

A second issue Bayless raised was a wall that will mark entry into San Juan Bautista from the north-west end. He said Meritage and former city staff had reached an agreement with former city management and engineering staff to build a keystone wall because of time and speed.

Bayless said there were three types of wall approved on the improvement plan set: keystone, rockery wall, and concrete block walls.  

“If this wall was not built correctly, it would have been stopped by inspection,” Bayless said. “It was inspected by the city, it was inspected by our soils engineer. If we were not building it on the right location or the right material or an acceptable alternative material we would’ve been red tagged and the job shut down.”

City Manager LaForge said her concern with the change of material was the aesthetics of the wall because it’s an entry point into San Juan Bautista.

“Either the wall needs to be changed for a more aesthetically pleasing wall or we need to put something that offsets that,” LaForge said. “Like a monument or a statue.”

She also said she has had conversations about putting in raspberry bushes.

Bayless said Meritage had no ill intent with building a keystone wall instead of a rockery wall. He said he would prefer to come up with a solution to cover the existing wall because it will be more cost-effective. He said the wall cost about $213,000.

A rockery wall is a laid-up stone wall that is dry-laid with a rock backing, which is a larger drainage material, larger than gravel, Bayless said.

The keystone wall is laid in a similar style, but stones are the primary material.

Neighbor Manning also expressed concerns about the wall, saying it diverted all rainwater onto his property from the hills during the winter and caused damage. He added the damage will be greater if more rain falls next season.

Manning mentioned that Meritage is required to provide a contact phone number for residents in case of problems or concerns. He said that when the construction of the wall began, he attempted to contact a construction supervisor and he left his card on each attempt. He said he was not contacted until a week after the wall was completed.

“That’s just an example of the communications,” Manning said.

He reiterated the communication problem during the June 26 meeting.

At both meetings, Manning also questioned the placement of the two-story house next to his property. He said the new building would tower over his house and he would not have privacy on his backyard.

LaForge said at the June 26 meeting that Meritage has had discussions about putting privacy trees on Manning’s property.

Bayless said Meritage is fine with building a one-story house next to the Mannings, but it would have to be done through an amendment to the development agreement.

Matthew Manning’s Mother, Kathleen, expressed distrust toward the developer, despite LaForge’s statement that the city manager was confident that Meritage will work with the family and meet all of its commitments.

She said to the council at the June 19 session that she, her son, and her lawyer had a meeting with John Bayless the day before regarding the north boundary wall and other matters. She stated Bayless told her Meritage tells the City Council what they want to hear to get the applications approved and then they make changes.

“They are trying to get out of here as cheaply as they can without putting one nickel out that they don’t have to, but maximizing their income,” Kathleen Manning said.

Questioning Bayless’ credibility at the June 26 meeting, she remarked, “He says a lot of things.”

Councilman Tony Boch addressed Kathleen Manning’s concern at the June 19 meeting by saying the city still has a leverage over Meritage to ensure it follows the development agreement.

“The thing is that you have to have your final [approval] signed off before PG&E will turn on the electricity and gas on,” Boch said. “To me that’s our leverage and we can’t let it slide. If these things need to be done then they damn well better get it done or they are not going to be able to close their escrows.”

Bayless repeated Boch’s message during the June 26 meeting as a way to differentiate what was being voted on and the conditions they still needed to meet.

“The city still has to accept the improvements as substantially complete: street signs, water, sewer, everything [has to be] ready so that we can close houses and sell to people. That’s their hammer that they hold to make sure that things they wanted done were done,” Bayless said.


Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.