After a very quiet year, a controversial project appeared in a City Council agenda packet posted late in the afternoon of the last day in May. The 400 block development, a cluster of buildings that will define Hollister into the 22nd Century, had changed, without public discussion. Three business days later, on June 5, the council approved the chopped up plan.

Visionary planners understand that the best results come when the community is involved and invested in the success of a city’s social and business center. Many cities invite citizens in for a charrette or planning session. That’s not what happened here.

The 400 block is downtown Hollister’s crown jewel, a public asset that could, with some imagination be transformed into a centerpiece of a revitalized city center. Instead it looks like just two modest buildings with vanilla suburban-style architecture—some nonprofit office space, a small amount of retail and handful of condos under gabled tile roofs.

It’s hard not to think of this as a missed opportunity. The city will only get $42,900 out of the $390,000 selling price.  The 2015 appraisal was never updated even though 2017 valuations are much higher. It’s basically a giveaway of a very strategic parcel, with an underwhelming return.

The number of units is not specific and could be as few as 14. There are three parties to the development agreement and no requirement that all parties perform before ground is broken. The economic benefits are not spelled out.

Moreover, it’s being pushed forward without looking at the total picture. The downtown plan is a decade out of date and needs to be updated. There are many successful models to follow: Paso Robles, Pleasanton, Livermore, Campbell.

More sunshine and participation is needed in this crucial process. The city should have a wide-ranging dialog involving a cross section of the community to give Hollister the downtown it deserves.

There’s been some discussion that the 400 block question should be put on the ballot. If that’s what it takes to ensure that the city gets the best possible project — one with iconic architecture, high-value uses and widespread support — then that route may be worth pursuing.

At minimum, the city should recalculate the numbers and insist that the benefits be quantified, the aesthetics reviewed, the appraisals updated and the community fully engaged. Most importantly, no construction should begin until all parties are ready to build. A half-baked project would be a major setback. And given the time the community has waited, there’s no reason to not get it right.

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