This map from the San Benito County General Plan shows the location of the commercial node proposal at U.S. 129 and Searle Road.

The San Benito County Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend a commercial rezoning of a Highway 101 “node” property in San Juan Bautista.

The commission’s recommendation applies to a portion of a 197-acre property just west of Highway 101, at the intersection of U.S. 129 and Searle Road. The property owners are the Johnson Family Trust and Weiler Family Trust.

The new zoning designation—if approved by the board of supervisors—would remove the C-3 commercial zoning from the property, which is broken up into three parcels. The zoning for the bulk of the property would change to Rural District. But a 21-acre parcel at the northwest intersection of U.S. 129 and Searle Road would change to Commercial Thoroughfare C-1 zoning.

With the commission’s recommendation at the Nov. 18 meeting, the rezoning request will proceed to the county’s supervisors for approval or denial Dec. 15.

The property is one of four highway nodes designated for Commercial Regional zoning classifications in the county’s 2035 General Plan. 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 C-1 designation allows for uses such as souvenir and curio shops, roadside stands, commercial and entertainment establishments including tourist‐serving commercial uses and hotels/motels, according to the General Plan. The county’s goal is to encourage property uses that act as destinations for commercial activity to serve the regional population.

The other three nodes are located at the Highway 101 interchanges with Betabel Road, Rocks Ranch and 101 Livestock Market.

Although the county in September 2019 created the new C-3 District to accommodate the General Plan’s preferred uses at the nodes, the voters rejected the C-3 ordinance in the Measure K vote in the March 2020 primary election.

The C-3 designation still applies to the Searle Road property, but due to the voters’ Measure K rejection there are no corresponding zoning regulations to implement the classification, according to county staff.

The C-1 zoning classification shares many similarities with the C-3 zoning in terms of building standards and permitted uses. However, it is less restrictive in other areas, such as landscaping, theme and tourism.

The 21.1-acre site where the owners are requesting C-1 zoning at Highway 129 and Searle Road does not yet have a development proposal attached, according to county staff. The property could accommodate up to 735,292 square feet of commercial development when fully built out.

The property is surrounded by agricultural uses in every direction, according to the staff report. Other nearby properties include Anzar High School, residences and industrial uses. The San Benito River is located north of the site.

Portions of the Searle Road property contain steep slopes of 30 percent or greater, rendering those areas unbuildable, according to county staff.

The Rural District zoning that the Searle Road property owners have requested would allow a maximum housing density of one unit per five acres.

In April, the supervisors approved a C-1 rezoning request for the 29-acre Betabel Road node property, which is owned by the McDowell Family Trust. The McDowells have proposed a 1950s-era-inspired California roadside stop with wooden barns, a service station and a vintage motel. The proposal includes a visitors’ center built in the shape of a watering can, meant to introduce travelers to San Benito County and promote local destinations.

A group of local residents—known as Preserve Our Rural Communities—sued the county to stop the rezoning of the Betabel site, claiming the C-1 designation superseded the voters’ rejection of Measure K. However, the judge sided with the county, ruling that the C-1 designation is “essentially different” from Measure K. 

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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