Two major housing projects in the works in Morgan Hill are proposed on land that has long been classified for commercial use.
The developments are both in the planning stages on the north side of town, and together would add a total of 218 units to the city’s housing supply.
One of the projects is slated for the 4.6-acre site currently occupied by Family RV, a motor home sales and rental business that moved onto the property at 19380 Monterey Road in 2012. DeNova Homes has been working on plans for a 93-unit condominium development, for which the Morgan Hill Planning Commission on Sept. 13 approved a tentative map and design permit.
Just over a mile south in the Evergreen Village development, just off Cochrane Road, the property owner is now planning a 125-unit townhome condominium project where a grocery market, medical offices, tire store and retail space have been proposed for several years.
The developer, Evergreen Development, has applied for a General Plan and zoning amendment—which will require approval from the city council—to allow the construction of the residential project, according to city staff. The property is currently zoned commercial, and the developer is seeking to change that to “mixed-use flex.”
The planning commission also on Sept. 13 heard a “preliminary review” of the Evergreen residential project from city staff and the developer. No action from the commission was taken or requested during the hearing, which was scheduled to give commissioners a chance to provide input to the developer.
Laura Ortiz, of Evergreen Development, told the commission that the original commercial plans envisioned for the 6.6-acre property were derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the market.
She said the development company has reached out to “every grocer that is out there” for the market portion of the commercial plan, but none have taken a bite. Many of the grocers have said there are not enough residents on that side of town yet to support one of their stores, Ortiz said.
Furthermore, many potential office and medical tenants contacted by Evergreen have balked at the cost of new “ground up construction,” Ortiz added.
Chad Kiltz, of Evergreen Development, told the commission Sept. 13, “At the end of the day, we determined the best use here was just straight residential. The reason (is) everybody (in the commercial sector) seems to be saying we need more rooftops” to support their business. “Adding higher density rooftops here could actually support the existing and new commercial development that will be coming here in the near future, and also attract additional uses,” Kiltz continued.
Still, city officials would prefer to see commercial—and possibly even “light industrial”—plans come through for the site at Evergreen Village, which includes the recently opened 7-Eleven gas station and convenience store on Cochrane Road. The 20.43-acre village was once part of the Morgan Hill Ranch business park, then was classified by the city council as a commercial master plan known as The Villages in 2014.
In 2018, the city council approved amendments to the master plan, and the project has been known as Evergreen Village since then, according to city staff. The pandemic, which started in March 2020, stalled the construction schedule for the commercial site; the first major construction in Evergreen Village was the 7-Eleven, which opened in January.
The city has also issued permits for a senior assisted living facility, Starbucks, Taco Bell and a hotel on other land within Evergreen Village.
Morgan Hill Economic Development Manager Matt Mahood told the planning commission Sept. 13 that the best use for the remainder of the Evergreen site is still commercial. He acknowledged that the pandemic “stopped the momentum” of new commercial development in the region, but “we’re seeing that momentum come back.”
Mahood said the city should continue looking for light industrial uses—which could include office, research & development or medical—for the remaining undeveloped portion of Evergreen Village.
“We will ultimately need to protect our commercial land,” Mahood said. “We felt that converting this existing commercial property to residential is premature.”
The applicant for the 125-unit residential proposal is Lennar Homes of California, according to city staff. Conceptual plans show the units placed in multiple buildings of five to eight townhome-style condominiums each.
The undeveloped property is located on the northeast corner of Butterfield Boulevard and Jarvis Drive.
Privacy, noise concerns
The 93-unit DeNova Homes project proposed at the current site of Family RV was applied for under SB330 and the “density bonus law”—state laws that encourage affordable housing and leave the city little discretion to reject the developer’s plans, according to city staff.
After a lengthy discussion—which included objections to the current plans from the property’s neighbors—the commission on Sept. 13 approved the residential project’s tentative map and design permit, with conditions. The commission voted 4-2, with Commissioners Paul Lake and James Wilson in dissent. Commissioner Malisha Kumar was absent from the meeting.
The project’s final map will require city council approval.
Conditions for approval include: modified landscape plans to include more trees, and larger ones, to act as a privacy buffer for existing homes on the south side of the DeNova Homes site; a 7-foot-tall wood fence along the property line shared with existing residences; and a disclosure statement added to the home ownership covenants stating that there is a potential for noise, dust and other business related impacts from the existing firm, Irish Construction, adjacent to the site to the north.
Irish Construction has been in operation next to the DeNova Homes property for about 24 years.
The residential map approved Sept. 13 includes 20 three-story buildings throughout the 4.6-acre property, with maximum heights of 40 feet.
Residents who live on Angelica Way, who spoke during public comment during the Sept. 13 meeting, told the commission they were worried that the height of the new homes might compromise their privacy in their backyards and swimming pools.
One of the residents, Bob Long, questioned the accuracy of a city traffic study on the DeNova project, which determined there would be no significant impact from the residential development. Long suggested the city’s study didn’t consider the “bigger picture” of hundreds more homes permitted or under construction on the north side of Morgan Hill, and how those units might contribute to traffic congestion.