Walnut Creek developer Robert Fulton, who was involved in the 28.5-acre Rancho Vista project approved in 2015 and built on San Juan Bautista’s old Christopher Ranch property in 2018, came before the city’s planning commission Feb. 7 to informally propose that the city annex the western half of the ranch, comprising 65 acres. If approved, it would then be slated for housing and commercial use and would be the first project approved in the city since the Copperleaf development, located along Hwy 156, in 2017.
The area proposed for annexation includes 38.68 acres slated for development and 24.98 acres of hillside which would not be developed, according to Fulton. Two existing historic structures, the Christopher Ranch House and the Lavagnino Barn, would be considered for preservation. Fulton said that the developers are in the process of creating impact studies that are required by the California Environmental Quality Act before the annexation can be approved.
During a design charrette held in May 2022 at San Juan Elementary School, five groups of residents were asked to designate areas outside the city that should be preserved or developed as housing or for commercial use. All five groups indicated a preference that the land in the proposed annexation be preserved from development.
Community Services Development Corporation Executive Director Sonny Flores, who is currently managing the Riverview Estates self-housing project in Hollister, spoke in favor of the annexation, saying it would be a way for the city to provide some affordable housing units as part of the new development whether through a similar self-housing project, moderately priced homes, or rental housing.
Commissioner Mishele NewKirk-Smith, who was elected at the meeting to be vice chairman of the committee, asked if any of the homes could be constructed as accessory dwelling units. She was told by Assistant City Manager Brian Fouche that the city did not permit it.
Commissioner Jose Aranda, elected at the meeting to be chairman of the committee, objected to the design of the existing Rancho Vista development, saying it did not fit with the rest of the community. He asked if the new project would be more carefully planned.
Fulton said that the homes had been designed to a different standard but were redesigned when the Meritage Homes Corporation began construction of Rancho Vista. He suggested the city impose tighter design standards for any developments on the proposed site.
Commissioner Dan DeVries voiced his objection to the entire presentation, saying it was inappropriate to have added it to the agenda without information being supplied to commissioners in advance or without time allotted for public comment. Fouche said that it was just an accommodation to Fulton to be able to present “the current status of their thinking as it moves through the annexation process” and that the time for a larger discussion in the context of a general community plan is when the developer submits a project application.
DeVries said that the matter should have been considered on the agenda as an informal project review and that there had not been proper notice to the community of the kind of detailed discussion that had occurred at the meeting.
During the public discussion, former mayor Chris Martorana cautioned the new commissioners to carefully study all repercussions of any decision to annex the land and approve a development.
“You have got to become experts on the process,” he said. “At each step, you are assigning rights and responsibilities to the city and the developers, and you need to understand very clearly the legal implications in each step of the process.”
The proposed annexation involves land that had been discussed during the public workshops over the city’s sphere of influence, a boundary defined by the California
Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions as an area outside of a city that is its “probable future boundary and service area.”
Fulton must formally request annexation by the city, and, if the city agrees, must then submit a formal application to San Benito County LAFCO and the city has to demonstrate the ability to provide services such as water and sewage to the annexed area. LAFCO will then decide whether the application is approved.
Fulton did not specify the number of houses that would be built on the property. The site has about 30% more available space than the adjoining Rancho Vista development which contains 86 houses.
During the sphere of influence workshops in May 2022, the consensus among participants was to limit future housing in the city to 88 units over the next five years. The houses in the proposed annexation are just the first of several developments being planned, which include 60 units being considered at the west end of the city as part of a project by the San Benito Health Foundation, and a planned community south of Highway 156 that is also being considered by the foundation.
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