The San Benito County Board of Supervisors narrowly rejected the 141-home Lee Subdivision residential project that has been proposed in southeast Hollister.
The board voted 3-2 at the Feb. 7 meeting to deny the project. The agenda item was an appeal hearing. Lee Subdivision developer Bill Lee of the Lee Family Trust was appealing a previous 3-1 vote by the county planning commission on Nov. 16 to deny the project.
The appeal hearing before the board of supervisors was initially scheduled for Dec. 13, but the board postponed the proceeding to the beginning of 2023.
At the Feb. 7 public hearing, Supervisors Kollin Kosmicki, Angela Curro and Dom Zanger voted to reject the Lee Subdivision. Supervisors Bea Gonzales and Mindy Sotelo voted in favor of the project.
The Lee Subdivision was proposed on a 27.45-acre property at 291 Old Ranch Road, according to a county staff report. The Lee Family Trust—consisting of trustees Bill Lee, William Scott Lee and Michele Marie Lee—has proposed a total of 141 residential lots, internal streets, a public park and passive open space. The plans include 121 single-family detached homes; 20 single-family attached units; and 25 Accessory Dwelling Units.
Supervisors and county staff noted that an Environmental Impact Report for the project found a “significant and unavoidable impact” in the transportation category. Specifically, when fully built the project would “generate new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in excess of the applicable VMT threshold (15 percent below existing VMT),” says a “findings of fact” document presented by county staff.
Curro added that the transportation impacts are one of many infrastructure concerns associated with the proposed Lee Subdivision, even though the project meets a long list of housing needs for the community.
The supervisors could have adopted a list of conditions for the project if they had sought to approve it. These include ensuring fire protection is in place before permits are issued; an agreement for sewer service with Sunnyslope Water District in Hollister; providing adequate public road rights-of-way; an improvement plan for all streets, roads and underground utilities; and the construction of a southbound left-turn lane within the median of Fairview Road.
Still, Curro said, “I am extremely favorable of projects like this, but I think we need the infrastructure in place prior to approval.”
The proposed Lee Subdivision site is surrounded by rural residential projects to the west, rural homes with vineyards and winery to the north and vacant agricultural land to the south and east. Some of the nearby vacant lands are slated to be developed with more rural residential and the Gavilan College San Benito Campus, the staff report continues.
The Fairview Corners residential project has been approved on a property that borders the southern edge of the Lee Subdivision site.
Currently on the Old Ranch Road site are a one-story home and barn, which would have been demolished to make way for Lee Subdivision if it had been approved.
In order to build the project, the Lee Family needed county officials to certify an Environmental Impact Report for the proposal, adopt a mitigation and monitoring program, and change the zoning to Residential Mixed and Planned Unit Development. The applicant also sought approval of a tentative subdivision map and an affordable housing agreement for the Lee Subdivision.
Gonzales at the Feb. 7 appeal hearing made a motion to approve “alternative 2” from the EIR of the Lee Subdivision proposal, which would have reduced the housing density on the site by about 25% compared to that submitted by the Lee family.
However, Gonzales’ motion failed on the same 3-2 split as the denial of Lee’s appeal.
Gonzales praised the project for its accommodations for prices affordable to the “missing middle” of residents and families in an income range that is not considered low-income, but is not wealthy enough to afford median home prices. Gonzales said these residents make the majority of San Benito County residents who would like to live and work locally.
During public comment at the Feb. 7 meeting, representatives of Hollister High School and Gavilan College spoke in support of the Lee Subdivision. The project would contribute toward the development of a future new high school, and add to the affordable housing stock for students and employees of the educational institutions.
San Benito High School District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum noted that the Lee Subdivision developer had agreed to voluntarily increase his required developer fees from $2.98 to $5 per square foot—a 166% increase beyond what is required. Those funds would contribute to the construction of a second high school for Hollister, which is expected to cost about $200 million, Tennenbaum said.
After the board’s denial, the Lee family has to wait at least one year before they can apply for the same project on the property. They can apply immediately if they want to propose a vastly different project for the Old Ranch Road site, according to county staff.