In 2019, the question of development along the Highway 101 corridor in San Benito County shifted from “if” to “when.”
County officials worked to control the “how” and “where” of the development through zoning changes. A group of vocal residents primarily from Aromas and San Juan Bautista, however, questioned the “why” of the development.
The San Benito County Supervisors approved zoning changes recommended by the 2035 General Plan on Sept. 24, known as Ordinance No. 991. But a successful signature-gathering campaign by opponents halted the ordinance’s implementation, and voters will decide its fate in March with Measure K.
The four areas in question are located at the Betabel Road and Highway 129/Searle Road interchanges in San Juan Bautista, and the Rocks Ranch and 101 Livestock Market interchanges in Aromas. The four properties, totaling about 326 acres, would be converted to regional commercial zoning, which according to the 2035 General Plan approved in 2015 provides “areas that function as destinations for commercial activity serving the regional population.” The types of developments allowed are shopping centers, automobile stations and hotels.
Under regional commercial zoning, retail space is limited to 85,000 square feet per property, and no more than 125 hotel rooms can be built within each area.
If Measure K passes, Ordinance No. 991 will be adopted as was originally approved by the supervisors.
Rider McDowell of Pebble Beach, who owns the Betabel property, was the first to outline his plans for the public. In an interview with the Free Lance, McDowell said he wants to build a vintage roadside rest stop, complete with a farmstand, gas station, visitor center and more.
He added that he will pledge the venture’s profits to pediatric cancer research.
Regardless of how Measure K fares in the election, McDowell’s project could still become a reality. On Nov. 20, the San Benito County Planning Commission recommended McDowell’s request for a similar commercial zoning change for the property that would allow him to submit his development plan. The item will go to the supervisors at a future meeting for approval.
Opponents of the supervisors’ decision to rezone the four areas, part of a group known as Preserve Our Rural Communities, submitted more than 4,300 signatures Oct. 23 against the action, more than twice the required 2,060 for a referendum.
In a statement announcing the results of its signature-gathering campaign, the group warned that the zoning change allows for a “wide range” of development, such as “large-scale resorts” and “amusement parks.”
The group alleges that “substantial evidence in the county’s administrative record shows that the projects will have “new significant impacts that were never disclosed, evaluated or mitigated in the 2015 General Plan EIR.”
The supervisors voted unanimously Nov. 19 to put the issue to voters on the March 3 ballot, rather than overturn their earlier decision outright.