Business / Economy

Supervisors Greenlight Del Webb Project at San Juan Oaks

Project will build nearly 1,100 homes for people aged 55 and up; county, local schools promised millions in revenue

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors on Nov. 3 unanimously passed six separate resolutions that added up to one potential big economic win for San Benito County: the more than 1,000-home Del Webb project at San Juan Oaks. The project is slated to include recreation facilities, parks and wildlife areas, and bring millions of dollars for local schools, Hollister and San Juan Bautista, as well as more than 500 jobs as construction gets under way in the third quarter of 2016.

The San Juan Oaks Specific Plan is forecast as “revenue neutral,” in that it will generate approximately $2 million in annual revenue when completed in five to six years compared to approximately $1.09 million in county expenditures, according to the presentation at the supervisors' meeting on Tuesday. Under the Development Agreement, Del Webb will pay a $5.5 million Community Benefit Fee that the county can use at its discretion to pay for street improvements, affordable housing, public safety, library services, and/or communications. Building, engineering, and impact fees will add up to $31 million to San Benito County, and $9 million to the City of Hollister.

Even though the buyers likely will not have school-age children, area schools will benefit: $2.84 million annually to Aromas-San Juan Unified; $160,000 to San Benito County schools; and $400,000 to Gavilan College.

The total estimated financial and economic impact for the county will be:

                                                               Annual Jobs       Annual Income      Annual Output

One-time impact of construction                    634                 $26.5 million           $79.5 million

Ongoing impact of retail and hotel                 322                  $10.5 million           $40.7 million

Ongoing impact of household spending          225                  $7.9 million            $21.3 million

When completed, the community will be comprised of 1,084 homes (1,017 senior and 67 market rate). There will be a 25,000-square-foot amenity center, a 200-room resort hotel, 65,000 square feet of commercial space, an assisted living facility, 23.4 acres of parks, 114 acres of open space, a 1,244-acre wild life preserve, five miles of bike trails, a 282-acre golf course (existing San Juan Oaks), and new roads throughout.

Del Webb consultant John Johnson told the supervisors and members of the public attending the meeting that after a long journey the many issues, from environmental to political, had been overcome, resulting in a viable project that promises to be a financial boon to the community.

He said the first thing he learned about the community was that the project had to be income neutral and he emphasized numerous times throughout his presentation that the county would not be paying for any of the improvements.

“The buildout is going to take four to five years,” Johnson said. “In the first phase you get sewer and water systems, traffic improvements, and our clubhouse that we will be building. The parks will come in phases two and three. The open space dedication and the fire station site happens at the beginning.”

Del Webb communities traditionally sell at a higher pace than regular market rate communities, Johnson noted, so the building cycle is shorter. He said after the homes are completed the resort and commercial developments will follow.

“Those won’t happen until, as we say in the industry, ‘we’ve got to have roots,’ he said. “In other words, we’ve got to have people living there and activity is taking place.”

According to Johnson, the typical buyers who will be attracted to the project are “lifestyle buyers,” who are 55 years old and up, and are looking for socialization and recreation activities.

“That’s why we offer walking, biking, tennis, athletic facilities, indoor and outdoor pools,” he said. “This group is very active in travel, education, the arts, and volunteer opportunities, which the schools will benefit from. Typically, they have a home already and approximately $1 million in assets.”

The new community will create additional housing in Hollister, Johnson said, because existing homeowners have had a positive reaction to the project, and when they come and buy a house from Del Webb they will sell their home in Hollister, thus creating market rate housing.

Johnson said those who will buy in the community will be looking to be no more than an hour’s drive from a major airport, medical services, and a college.

“Most importantly, they want a safe community,” he said. “I would not be here today if this whole community was not considered safe.”

Prospective buyers, Johnson said, are active spenders.

“These people don’t put their money under their mattresses,” he said. “They’re out there living their lives, spending their money at the retail stores, car dealerships, and restaurants.”

Homes will sell in the range of $300,000 to $450,000, which Johnson said, at the lower end, reaches down into the affordable house category in the county. While Del Webb doesn’t provide solar, it will build the houses solar-ready. He added that the wineries will see a big boost in business, and restaurants and tourism will follow close behind.

“And we do invite the grandchildren,” he said. “We actually put in playgrounds because we find that more and more grandparents want their grandchildren to come see them. And hotels will come because these homes aren’t built to house 20 relatives when they show up for the holidays, so a lot of hotels rooms get rented.”

From the beginning of planning the community, attention has been paid to traffic patterns. Johnson said early on there will be a new traffic light at the intersection of Union Road and San Juan Oaks Road. He said Caltrans has told him that 156 will be widened to four lanes in 2017, and Del Webb is coordinating improvements to the intersection of 156 and Union Road, all of which will hopefully help the traffic situation.

Water conservation and use are high priorities in the plan.

“There’s a water tank there now for the golf course and clubhouse,” Johnson noted. “We will be building a parallel system for the rest of the community. Golden State Water, which is the largest in the state, will be the owner and operator of the water and sewer systems. They will contract with the city. We have adequate ground water and the project will be using the existing waste water treatment facility.”

Even though Del Webb wasn’t asked to do so, the company decided to put aside nearly 200 acres of “permanent ag easements” and nothing will be built on the hills surrounding the project in order to keep them as a wildlife preserve, Johnson said at the meeting.

He concluded by saying it has been an interesting journey and he asked for the supervisors’ approval of the project. Before they did, though, there were a few questions.

“How are you going to include local companies that provide construction, supplies and materials as you build out?” Supervisor Margie Barrios asked.

“We use local vendors as much as possible,” Johnson assured. “It doesn’t make sense to hire a plumbing company that is a hundred miles away. We go to all the local vendors of all trades to see if they’re available. In some cases we actually help them because we can give them enough business for four or five years to grow their businesses. We don’t want to have commuting issues because once this starts it’s very intense. So, we buy from the community.”

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz wanted assurance that people who buy homes because there is an 18-hole golf course won’t be coming back complaining to the board 20 years from now if someone wants to change it to a 9-hole course. He was told that under the plan, if someone wants to make changes to the golf course they will have to come back to the board for approval.

De La Cruz was also concerned about jobs.

“I want to go a step further and make sure there’s an ability to have a training program for 16- to 18-year-old kids to prime them for these jobs,” he said. “Thank you for all the money that this project is going to generate, but I’m greedy. I want jobs that our local people can benefit from.”

“I am hearing you,” Johnson said. “What we can do is work with the county, the community college and the high schools. There is such a labor shortage in our industry and it behooves us to do this. We are in big trouble in developing houses. We’ve had to stop selling in Sacramento because we can’t build them. We cannot get the trades. It’s a problem and we recognize that.”

Michael Smith, who moved to Hollister 20 years ago, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that he is one of those “typical people” and he wants to sell his home to move to the new community.

“I’m asking you to support and approve it,” he said to the supervisors. “These people like to invest in the community in terms of joining service clubs, donating to charities, and giving back to the community.”

Jerry Thome said he and his wife, Denise, are lifelong residents of the county and after 40 years working in construction and five years as a building inspector for Gilroy, he’s retiring.

“My wife and I have visited the Del Webb community in Manteca,” he said. “We saw a well-maintained community. This gives us the opportunity to retire in a nice community that’s safe and enjoy the quality of life it can give us.  I’m hoping you can pass this project on a personal basis. On a San Benito County basis, I see a lot of perks. I see money, growth and services. It’s a win all around.”

Everyone who spoke at the meeting was in favor of the project and all asked the supervisors to pass the resolutions, which they did—unanimously.

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]