San Juan council OKs controversial Copperleaf subdivision

San Juan Bautista council members voted 3-2 Tuesday for final approval of the Copperleaf subdivision, which will bring 45 new single-family homes to the tiny-but-growing city.

Councilman Dan DeVries was one of the two no votes and was critical of the decision.

“The city completely ignored the city’s own mandatory affordable housing ordinance,” DeVries said Wednesday morning.

San Juan Bautista Municipal Code 11-09-400 states that one in five housing units must be reserved for very low- or low-income households in residential projects of six or more units.

That code section reads as follows:

“No for-sale residential project of six (6) or more units subject to this Chapter shall be approved in any area of the City unless at least one (1) such housing unit is reserved for sale to very low- or low-income households or reserved as rental units for very low- or low-income households for each five (5) units of market rate housing.”

The Copperleaf subdivision is being developed by Edenbridge Homes, a Cupertino-based construction firm. The project is located on the north side of Old San Juan Hollister Road. Highway 156 is next to the project’s northern boundary.

“We’re conforming to ordinances and our condition of approval,” Edenbridge Homes Project Manager Katharine Oesterreich said Wednesday. “We’re providing nine accessory units per their ordinances.”

DeVries, who spent 12 years on the San Benito County Planning Commission, was surprised that the development project passed final approval.

“There’s different ways to accomplish the goal of affordable housing, but to completely ignore the needs and the law on the books in San Juan Bautista was unbelievable to me,” DeVries said.

On the other hand, Mayor Chris Martorana said legal counsel advised the city council that members didn’t have the legal right or ability to vote the project down.

“If we did in fact do that, we’d be subject to a lawsuit that could have included taking, meaning we’d be liable for the entire value of the project,” Martorana said Wednesday. “We’re talking tens of millions of dollars of liability for the city. I wasn’t willing to risk that when the attorneys were telling us there was no chance we’d win that. We’d have to pay for all of this. Best case is we’d pay for a lawsuit and they’d move forward.”

Martorana said the two council members who voted against the project had an idea how the other three votes would go and might have felt it was a safe vote to voice opposition.

Vice Mayor Jim West was to the point on the matter.

“It had an approved map,” West said.

Councilman John Freeman had the other no vote on the final approval.

“In my opinion, people are putting the cart before the horse,” Freeman said Wednesday.

There isn’t an enforcement mechanism to designate affordable housing, he said.

“Presently, they have built some of the houses that have what I would call ‘mother-in-law cottages’.

He described them as “less than 1,000 square-foot, one-bedroom types of homes.”

“They’re designated to be low income; however there is no enforcement mechanism at all. Anybody can buy it. You don’t have to prove it’s low income,” Freeman said.

Water is another factor. In October 2016, San Juan Bautista received an order from the State Water Resources Control Board that prevents the city from adding new water hookups until proof of compliance has been met.

“The city is under a state moratorium for any new construction until we get our water figured out,” DeVries said. “So why are we planning and approving housing subdivisions when we don’t even have infrastructure to serve those residents? I’m not sure why we’re planning these new subdivisions when we don’t have the ducks in a row already.”

Oesterreich was aware of the moratorium.

“We, along with the other builders in town, are assisting the city as much as we can to make sure we help them with that problem,” she said.

The city’s infrastructure can’t handle new development, Freeman said.

“In a period of less than one year, you have 163 new homes coming into a town that only has 700 homes today,” he said. “A 23 percent increase in homes in a short period of time, and our infrastructure can’t handle that.”

Freeman said city residents he spoke with were strongly against the development project.

“Dan and I won our election contests last November,” he said. “I walked the entire city of 957 registered voters. I was able to meet probably 300 people in total. Of the people I talked to, about 90 percent were opposed to this particular development. And those remaining 10 percent were either in favor or didn’t care much. The city residents are pretty strongly against it.”

Martorana also said local residents are unhappy with the project.

“I’m unhappy about the project,” he acknowledged. “It’s a lousy project, but we were forced into the approval by the process.”

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