Developer hopes county residents will be receptive to El Rancho
San Benito proposal
By Luke roney and Serdar Tumgoren Staff Writers

Gilroy – It could be 900 new homes or it could be 8,000 – far too much guessing room for local officials awaiting hard numbers on a brand new city that could rise 16 miles south of Morgan Hill.

After nearly a year of canvassing local opinions about a major development proposal for northern San Benito County, Arizona-based developer DMB has disclosed a preliminary report that it hopes will ease concerns about potential effects on the economy, environment, public services and traffic.

The report contains no housing figures, but project representative Ray Becker said he presented a range of 900 to 8,000 new homes earlier in the year to leaders from both San Benito and Santa Clara counties.

“That’s a pretty big city – that’s 27,000 people,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage estimated based on the high-end figure. He and other local leaders said they are waiting for specifics in the months following the release of the report, the first step in gathering community feedback before designing the project.

“Definitely the impacts will be great any time we talk about a community that size in our back yard,” Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro said. “We’re trying to grow in a manner that we can handle. … It doesn’t make sense to have a controlled growth area, then all of a sudden thousands of homes pop up south of us. We’ve let that be known to Mr. Becker.”

Morgan Hill officials have their concerns as well, wondering how the city’s already clogged thoroughfares would handle an influx of thousands of travelers into the region.

“Obviously, traffic is the immediate concern,” Morgan Hill Councilman Steve Tate said. “And there’s other stuff like that.”

The DMB representative acknowledged the concerns of the local politicians and said they would be addressed as the company proceeds with the project.

“I think they’re being understandably cautious,” he said. “Clearly they can’t react to a project because we haven’t presented one. It’s incumbent upon us to address their concerns when we bring a project forward.”

In the meantime, the report gives an early glimpse of measures intended to allay concerns about the proposed development off Highway 25, including:

  • Alternative access to Highway 101 through the project site to reduce the traffic burden on Highway 25

  • Developer-financed services such as a library and police and fire protection

  • Open-space easements with parks, trails and sports facilities

  • Diverse housing, including rentals, affordable to a wide range of people

DMB, which has built communities in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Utah, owns about 4,500 acres just south of the Santa Clara County line near the Pajaro River. The development company has spent the last year talking to groups and individuals about what kind of community they’d like to see built on the property.

“We try to make a project that meets the needs of the community. Not what we think the needs of the community are,” Becker said.

A copy of the report, which includes “guiding principles” rather than specific plans, will soon be mailed to homes in San Benito County for comment.

In the report, DMB proposes a planned, self-contained community that maintains the county’s rural character, protects surrounding agricultural lands and eschews the kind of sprawl seen in Santa Clara County.

Traffic and safety on Highway 25 topped the list of concerns area residents have expressed to DMB. To insure that El Rancho San Benito will not add to already-dangerous road conditions, the company proposes creating new access to Highway 101 through the project site.

The report also states that development fees generated by the project, combined with matching funds from the state, could support the widening of the regional road.

On the economic front, the report states that locals can look forward to a spike in construction-related jobs, and promises that transportation improvements and a mix of new housing will help attract more commercial and industrial businesses.

San Benito County Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz does not believe that housing alone will prop up the county’s faltering economy.

“In my humble opinion, I don’t see building homes and homes and homes as a solution,” he said. “I will not support a project that just builds homes. If it provides job creation and houses, I’ll support it.”

The DMB report states that El Rancho San Benito should provide all of its own public services, including schools, and share some of its infrastructure improvements with the rest of the county.

“That’s going to be a key element,” San Benito County Supervisor Don Marcus said.

Voters would have to change zoning to allow large-scale development on the DMB land, currently zoned for one house per five acres. But San Benito County supervisors would be the ones to ultimately grant any exception to the county’s one percent growth cap.

DMB is not the first developer to envision a large-scale community on the land between Gilroy and Hollister. In August of 1990, plans resurfaced for a 10,000-home community at El Rancho San Benito. Local residents remember the property was owned by Roberto Floriani at that time, who had started going through the steps necessary to build a self-sufficient community. The city would have had its own police, roads, schools, sewer system and trains.

Becker expects DMB to issue a preliminary development plan with housing numbers and other details by spring, with final plans to be complete by the end of 2006.

Matt King contributed to this report.

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