Opposition grows against development on downtown corner

The grassy lot on the corner of Fourth and San Benito streets may become a central plaza.

Opposition to a proposed development on the city’s open green space at Fourth and San Benito streets has mounted, particularly on social media, before a decision Monday that could determine the fate of the cornerstone downtown plot.
Rolan Resendiz and other active artists in the community responded mid-week when they found out the Community Foundation for San Benito County had been “lobbying”—as he put it—to have local residents connected to the organization speak out in support of the multi-use development proposal.
Resendiz said the foundation did a “blast” of emails to all nonprofits.
“They gave them talking points,” said Resendiz, a local artist and board member with the county arts council. “They told them to contact their public representatives. They went hard.”
Resendiz said his cousin Rachelle Escamilla led the effort to mount opposition to a development and support for keeping the space green. Interest almost immediately spiked on social media, with the vast majority of those communicating against a development. The Free Lance Facebook page alone had 33 comments in response to a post linking to a poll on the newspaper’s website. It didn’t appear anyone in that thread was supportive of the development proposal and readers offered up ideas like putting in a garden, amphitheater, stage, pool or gated park. Again and again, many people wrote to keep it “green.”
“It is part of our community,” wrote Sara Barron. “If they really want to do something there, they can put a garden, flower and chairs to share time with friends, family.”
She and others are against the idea from the nonprofit foundation and Del Curto Brothers construction company to buy the 400 block property—which has been a popular open space, especially for events like the downtown farmers market and biker rally—and develop it. The proposal calls for building four mixed-use buildings on the north parcel, keeping the central space as open, and building a 7,420-foot “philanthropic center” for the foundation.
On Monday, council members will consider whether to enter into exclusive negotiations with the parties on a sale for the property neighboring the Briggs Building parking garage. An agenda report notes that the city had the property appraised at $290,000 last fall. Since several local taxing entities would split the proceeds, the city would end up with $52,603 from a sale, according to the report.
The City of Hollister has been considering what to do with the former redevelopment agency property for more than two decades in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake that leveled buildings previously standing there. After the disaster, the RDA purchased the site in an effort to curtail blight. Eight years ago, the city approved a Hollister Downtown Association revitalization plan that included creating a “Plaza Square” in the 400 block with office space on the upper floors and retail space on the bottom.
Since the state dissolved all RDAs three years ago, the remaining RDA successor agency must eventually unload all of its remaining assets.
That brought the city to November when officials put out a request for proposals to prospective developers. Council members received just one proposal before the initial deadline of Jan. 5, from the Del Curto Group, for retail and condominium space in three stories along with a courtyard and open-air balconies. Del Curto asked for a 45-day extension, however, and city officials granted 90 days to allow time for more proposals.
The city never did, however, engage the broader community on ideas in the event officials decided to keep it open to the public. The city’s stated goal, on the other hand, has been to sell the two parcels, totaling about 18,000 square feet, to a private developer for a “keystone commercial or mixed/use development as a catalyst for economic development” downtown. Supporters of such a project have contended it could boost the local economy and local government coffers through currently absent tax revenues.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, meanwhile, has been left out of decisions on the plot because he owns The Vault building next door and his participation could constitute a conflict of interest. He has, however, joined the opposition group against the idea of selling and developing the land.
“I think for the past 20 years I’ve been saying the same thing,” Velazquez said, stressing that he was speaking as an individual. “That is, we have to turn that block into something that brings in people for entertainment or something that gives them the feel of a community.”
Velazquez warned that it’s “important that we don’t make a bad decision right now” regarding the key property. He believes the City of Hollister could purchase it from the successor agency, meaning proceeds would still be split among various local taxing entities.
“Building more buildings is not an answer right now,” Velazquez said.

Leave your comments