Group pushes slow-growth measure

A group of concerned residents has launched a drive to get a new
slow-growth initiative on the ballot to preserve the county’s
dwindling farmland and the environment.
A group of concerned residents has launched a drive to get a new slow-growth initiative on the ballot to preserve the county’s dwindling farmland and the environment.

Citizens for Responsible Growth in San Benito County has already started collecting signatures in hopes of getting a measure on the ballot by spring 2004.

“This is intended to limit and stabilize development at a level that the county can live with,” spokeswoman Janet Brians said. “We just want to have a good life here.”

Brians, a 30-year county resident, said the initiative is not intended to bring all development in the county to a halt. She said it would redirect growth within Hollister by first “filling in” open and unused areas of the city, then by suggesting that any other developments be placed in areas other than prime agriculture land.

“I know we’re going to grow, but can’t we do it in a way that is more beneficial to everyone involved?” Brians said. “We want to work with the county and people who are concerned about this.”

The initiative would limit new housing to 1 or 2 percent of the number of households in unincorporated areas. Senior, modest, low- and very-low-income housing would be given special consideration.

Areas of special environmental concern cover protection of wetlands and slopes too steep for construction. Visual safeguards direct building away from ridgelines as well as reducing adverse visual impact generally.

To save agricultural lands and enhance farming and ranching, the initiative would increase the minimum size of a parcel zoned as agriculture productive land from five to 20 acres in specified areas north of Hollister and in the San Juan Valley. Smaller existing legal parcels will remain valid.

The minimum size for parcels designated as agricultural rangeland would be increased from 40 acres to160. Agricultural rangeland is considered remote areas primarily made up of steep slopes with a high fire hazard and few roads or utilities.

Brians said the initiative would have flexibility that would give voters and the Board of Supervisors the power to change or amend it as long as they abided by its intent.

It is still unclear how the initiative would affect the county’s current growth control measures.

County Planning Director Rob Mendiola could not be reached for comment.

In October 2000 the Board of Supervisors approved a 1-percent growth cap on major and minor subdivisions in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Applications for new subdivisions will be reviewed during a single period each fiscal year – the date to be announced – and evaluated on a point system. Separate systems will be developed for major and minor subdivisions.

Competing subdivisions in each category will be ranked based on points earned. Selected projects will receive a preliminary allocation for a specified number of new lots.

Allocations may be granted for future years and/or phased in over a number of years.

Projects receiving preliminary allocations still have to pass environmental review and subdivision approval within two years.

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