The developer of the Santana Ranch neighborhood recently gained permission to build more homes off Fairview Road, even though the embattled project is behind on its affordable housing requirements spelled out in a nearly 11-year-old agreement with the county.
The San Benito County Board of Supervisors also recently approved the final map for Santana Ranch’s next phase, “Unit 14,” which consists of 115 single-family residential lots.
Under county planning guidelines, the approval of a project’s final map is a key step in the development process before building permits can be issued. No building permits have been issued for Santana Ranch Unit 14.
But the supervisors on Jan. 25 did approve—on a 3-2 vote—thirteen new building permits for the current phase of construction at Santana Ranch, which is owned by Anderson Homes. The board’s vote approving Unit 14 was also 3-2, and occurred at the Jan. 28 continuation of that week’s meeting.
Supervisors Kollin Kosmicki and Peter Hernandez voted against both approval requests by Anderson Homes.
Santana Ranch’s requests for more building permits and the next phase’s final map proved to be contentious because Anderson Homes has not yet built the portion of affordable homes required for the project to move ahead. The vast residential development has also been the subject of ongoing complaints from neighbors and the public, and the site of numerous violations of state stormwater and erosion control regulations.
“Santana Ranch…is the poster child for why San Benito County has no business approving this kind of massive suburban style development going forward,” Kosmicki said at the Jan. 25 board meeting. “I don’t support giving the developer a break on stipulations. It would be a terrible precedent. We would once again be rolling over for developers.”
Under a 2011 development agreement with the county, Anderson Homes is required to build at least 50% of the 110 affordable homes planned in Santana Ranch—or 55 units—before the project can receive more than 500 building permits.
As of May 2021, Santana Ranch had been issued a total of 499 residential building permits, but has only completed about 30 affordable units, according to county staff. The project had been under a “building permit hold” before the supervisors’ Jan. 25 vote.
“These ‘advanced permits’ will allow Anderson Homes to complete 513 (single family dwellings) prior to completion of the 50% affordable housing requirement,” says a county staff report.
Anderson Homes expects to have 55 affordable units complete by the end of March. The developer requested the 13 permits before reaching its benchmarks in order to keep their local subcontractors employed on Santana Ranch, according to county staff.
Michael Anderson, of Anderson Homes, told the board that construction of the project’s first affordable apartment building is underway, but it was delayed by miscommunications among the county, City of Hollister and Sunnyslope County Water District. Other aspects of the project have been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and PG&E work schedules, Anderson said.
Supervisor Elizabeth Dirks said she thinks Anderson Homes would have completed the first 55 affordable housing units by now if not for the pandemic and miscommunications. She noted that the 13 requested building permits are for smaller homes at a lower price point.
Anderson told the Free Lance that all 14 “compliance packages” Santana Ranch has submitted to the county have been found sufficient.
“We are proud of the community we have created at Santana Ranch,” Anderson said. “Our staff, contractors and the county staff have worked very hard to overcome major challenges the last two years, including a pandemic, material shortages and labor disruptions.”
He added that the board’s approval of 13 advance building permits “showed support for local businesses including our local subcontractors and their employees.”
The board’s recent votes on Santana Ranch followed a Jan. 25 presentation by county staff outlining the project’s compliance record with the development agreement. The project is in “substantial compliance” with existing agreements, falling short on its stormwater infrastructure requirements.
County staff said Jan. 25 the developer is working on its stormwater deficiencies, and could resolve the issues “within days.”
“Stormwater is a big issue out there,” said County Resource Management Agency Director Mike Chambless. “We’ve received numerous complaints from neighbors.”
One of those neighbors is Barbara Snyder, who has witnessed water runoff problems at Santana Ranch for several years. She has watched a detention basin built for the project overflow during heavy rains, causing stormwater to flow from Santana Ranch onto her property and that of her neighbors.
Snyder said she is “upset” about the board’s recent approvals, which reflect a pattern where the county keeps giving Anderson Homes a pass.
“They have tried to screw over San Benito County and the City of Hollister from the time they broke ground,” Snyder said.
County staff also presented the board with a memo from the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board listing four alleged erosion control violations at Santana Ranch. The memo is dated Nov. 30, 2021.
The RWQCB warned Anderson Homes to correct the alleged violations “as soon as possible,” the memo says. The agency also required the developer to submit technical reports on its erosion and sediment control plans moving forward.
Additional notices of violations at Santana Ranch date back to 2018, according to Phillip Hammer of the RWQCB.
County staff said Anderson Homes has been cooperative with the RWQCB and is “complying with the agency’s requirements.”
Hundreds of homes have been built in Santana Ranch, which has been under development off Fairview Road since 2013. The county approved the Santana Ranch Specific Plan in 2010. At full buildout, the project will consist of 1,092 residential units on 292 acres. The specific plan also includes a new elementary school, which was completed in 2020 on a 12-acre site off Sunnyslope Road now known as Rancho Santana School.
Also included in the Santana Ranch Specific Plan are parks and recreational uses, and 65,000 square feet of commercial space that is not yet constructed.
Anderson Homes has built more than 1,000 homes in San Benito County since 1989, Michael Anderson told the supervisors. The developer’s projects, including Santana Ranch, have also featured more parks, open space fees and other improvements to surrounding public infrastructure and facilities.