Planning Commission moves forward on 400 block

Mayors threat of lawsuit continues

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez is preparing to appeal the Hollister Planning Commission’s decision to approve a tentative map, conditional use permit and minor subdivision for the Del Curto Brothers and Community Foundation of San Benito County on San Benito Street’s 400 block.

The project has been a source of controversy within city government, and Velazquez’s two letters to the planning commission from his lawyers Robert Perlmutter and Edward Shexnayder at Shute, Mihaly and Wineberger are not the first steps he has taken to stop the project. When the sale of the property on the 400 block neighboring The Vault, Velazquez’s banquet hall, was first approved, Velazquez gathered signatures to get a referendum on the ballot that would overturn the decision.

The petition had enough valid signatures, but California Attorney General Xavier Beccera said the decision could not be subject to a citywide vote. Velazquez abstains on voting for decisions regarding the 400 block, but has sent two letters to the planning commission and spoken out against the issue “as a private citizen.”

Velazquez and his lawyers believe the project’s approval is unlawful because “the project violates the maximum residential density for the project site; the project does not qualify for a density bonus; the project requires full CEQA review; (and) the city should comply with the state law requirements for street vacation.”

The planning commission granted a density bonus for the project to allow construction of 22 residential units. Typically downtown zoning on lots of this size would only allow for 18 units, but the city has said the developer can build four units of affordable housing.

The city says the development is immune from full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review because staff believes the housing qualifies as infill,and that the project is consistent with the downtown general plan, is on less than an acre of land and does not have any significant impact on wildlife or natural habitats.

City staff also analyzed other portions of the project’s impact in their response to Velazquez’s letter and came to the conclusion that the impact would not be great enough to warrant a full CEQA review.

At the April 11 meeting, the commission also approved the vacation of what the city refers to as “Briggs alley.” Abraham Prado, with the city planning department, said Briggs alley is about 20 feet of space between the Briggs parking structure and San Benito Street. Prado told the Free Lance the area would be divided in half and used equally for the mixed-use building and the community foundation. He said this was a part of the project’s entitlement process when the development was approved in June 2017.

The staff’s answers did not suffice for Velazquez, who told the Free Lance, “They’re making up ways to justify it.” He believes the vacation of Briggs alley needs to be done through city council legislative action.

Development Services Director Bryan Swanson said that any city resident could appeal a planning commission decision. The appeal would go before the council, which would decide whether or not to uphold the planning commission’s decision.

Velazquez told the Free Lance he is prepared to file a lawsuit if the planning commission decision is upheld.

Prado said that if all goes as planned, the next steps for the project would be for the developer to  submit a final map to the city’s engineering department and file for a subdivision improvement agreement that would first go to the engineering department and then to the city council.

An appeal must be filed within 15 days of the planning commission’s decision.

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