New council members weigh in on 400 block

Parking issues reinvigorate debate over project plans

The undeveloped “400 block” in Hollister on San Benito Street is entering another phase as it inches toward its first development in nearly 30 years.

Despite the sale of the property last year to the San Benito Community Foundation and Del Turo Brothers construction, the money—$390,000—has not officially changed hands. City Manager Bill Avera said this is common practice for these kinds of development deals.

Payment aside, the City is moving forward with getting the area prepared for the construction of the proposed community center and apartment and commercial complex. The council on Nov. 19 denied a resolution authorizing the community foundation and Del Curto Brothers developments to use spaces in the city’s parking structure, the Briggs building.

The council asked that the resolution be brought back when more specific costs were outlined and a plan for the developers to cover those costs were made. Two newly elected council members spoke at the meeting to voice their opinions on the parking issue.

The new council members may be hearing the issue after they’re seated in January. Avera told the Free Lance that city staff had hoped to get the report on the Dec. 3 agenda, but because of the Thanksgiving holiday the additional reporting was unlikely to be completed by then.

The 400 block has a controversial past in Hollister and has been a major point of contention between Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and the rest of the current city council. Velazquez, who was not present at the Nov. 19 meeting, led a campaign to put a referendum on the sale of the 400 block on the November ballot.

Velazquez had collected nearly 25,000 signatures to request a public vote. Four council members, with Velazquez abstaining, stalled referendum plans by asking California Attorney General Xavier Becerra whether the city’s resolution to sell the 400 block could be subject to a referendum. Becerra ruled earlier this year that a referendum on the sale could not go forward, because it was technically an urban development project and not a straight sale by the city.

Velazquez had opposed the sale of the property to the foundation and Del Curto Brothers, not just because of the concept of the development, but also because the City sold it for $300,000 below the most recent appraised value of the property.

A 2015 appraisal had valued the land at downtown Hollister’s busiest corner at $390,000. In September 2016, an updated appraisal placed the property’s market value at $690,000. The property was sold to the developers and the foundation in June 2017 for $390,000.

The proposed project has two phases: The first is the philanthropic center, which will serve as community foundation office space and also space for various non-profits in San Benito County, including BenitoLink, a non-profit news website funded in part by the foundation. The second phase includes ground-floor commercial space with second-floor apartments.

Rolan Resendiz, council member-elect for District 2, voiced his opposition to the project as a whole and the parking plan in particular at the Nov. 19 council meeting.

“Those that know me know I feel passionately about the issue of the 400 block,” said Resendiz. “I still feel to this day that if the people had been given the opportunity to vote on it, that they would have voted against this project.”

The parking plan presented at the meeting proposed that the foundation and Del Curto Brothers pay $15 a month for each space in the city parking structure. The center would reserve 20 spots and the condominiums would reserve 24.

Resendiz wondered if the $15 monthly would be enough to cover maintenance costs.

Marty Richman, council member-elect in District 4, told the council he was fine with the foundation spending just $15 per spot, but felt the apartment building’s developers should pay more because of increased use.

Richman asked the council how the structure would operate if it had to be open 24 hours a day for apartment residents.

“I’m very disappointed in the staff report” on the apartment building, said Richman. “I don’t think it addresses the issues with the condos”

Council members Karson Klauer and Jim Gillio agreed and voted against the resolution.

Avera told the Free Lance he believed an arrangement for the developer could be made to cover updates to the parking structure. “I’m sure the agreement could be modified so that the developers would probably pay the cost of that or the cost would be reimbursed to the city,” he said.

The council asked what the price would be to install keypads or swiping stations for the future apartment residents as well as the cost of other updates or recurring maintenance due to the increase in use.

A Hollister Planning Commission vote Sept. 27 set plans for the 400 block  back in motion. The commission unanimously approved the site and architectural application for a “philanthropic building” and mixed-use space at the site.

Following the planning commission vote, the developers are set to bring back a tentative map for approval by the commission. After the tentative map is approved, the developers have two years to produce a final map that will be reviewed by the city’s engineering department prior to city council consideration.

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