County eyes Southside Road for housing study area

A rainbow appears over the green hills along Southside Road in 2012.

With a relatively recent rush of interest for development in the Southside Road area of San Benito County, planners are exploring whether to amend the recently completed General Plan to include a fifth special study area for potential building projects.
The idea roused opposition from some developers at last week’s San Benito County Planning Commission meeting where the idea came up on the agenda. The current general plan, a growth blueprint through 2035 approved in July of last year, included four special study areas for growth as a signature feature in the document.
Just 10 months later and with a new department head overseeing planning in Brent Barnes, the Resource Management Agency director, the county staff brought forward the idea for a fifth study area. The general concept behind the study areas is that they provide an organized framework for addressing related development issues, such as infrastructure, in one particular geographic area with varying construction projects. The study now areas include areas near Bolsa Road, Fairview Road, Union Road and San Juan Bautista.
Adding a fifth study area to the mix prompted concerns from developers already working on relatively small projects in the Southside Road area. They spoke at last week’s planning commission meeting, and two of them agreed to meet with planning staff and an ad hoc committee of commissioners to see if they could find compromise on the matter.
Before that happened, though, builders and planning commissioners debated over the merits of a fifth study area, or even whether specific development agreements were adequate enough of a tool to ensure enough planning for sustainable growth.
“Truthfully, I’m not excited about development agreements,” said Commissioner Pat Loe. “They’re extremely expensive.”
Developers and planners, however, were more focused on the talk about making it a study area. Chris Garwood representing Pacific Union Land Co., one of companies with development projects well under way in the Southside Road area, explained how a county planning official initially told him to hold off on traffic studies so the local government could do them—and that he recently received a letter saying the firm’s application is incomplete.
“We’re a little bit frustrated with the way the process is working,” Garwood said.
Garwood and another developer of a project in that area, however, agreed to meet with county staff and the ad hoc panel to hash over differences before another commission meeting this week.
It wasn’t just the development companies expressing concern, though. Smaller builders had issues, too. Lynn Hilden, who lives in the Ridgemark area near the water towers, told commissioners how he’s trying to merely split off two parcels for family. The Southside Road study area has complicated the project, in the works for three years.
“Because of this meeting, you guys aren’t processing it,” he said.

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