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Supervisors rezone highway property to commercial

No development proposed for Highway 129 site

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 Supervisors voted to approve a commercial rezoning of a property along Highway 101, although some members of the public said the decision goes against the will of the voters.

The supervisors voted 3-1 to rezone 21 acres at the intersection of Highway 129 and Searle Road in San Juan Bautista, which is adjacent to Highway 101. Supervisor Jaime De la Cruz dissented.

The new zoning designation removes the C-3 commercial zoning from the property, which is broken up into three parcels. The zoning for the bulk of the 197-acre property changes to Rural District, while the 21-acre parcel changes to Commercial Thoroughfare C-1 zoning.

The property is one of four Highway 101 “nodes” designated for Commercial Regional zoning classifications in the county’s 2035 General Plan.

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 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 had still applied to the Searle Road property, but due to the voters’ Measure K rejection there were no corresponding zoning regulations to implement the classification, according to Principal Planner Darryl Boyd.

Dan DeVries, who represents property owners Johnson Family Trust and Weiler Family Trust, said no development is proposed at this time.

He pointed to the 2035 General Plan, which identifies the area for future commercial development, and added that the public had extensive input in the process.

Proposed projects under the C-1 zoning designation also require public input, DeVries said.

“The public determined there should be an opportunity for a gas station on Highway 101 through San Benito for crying out loud,” he said. “We have thousands of cars passing through our county every day, and we need to make some money off of them.”

In April, the supervisors approved a C-1 rezoning request for the 29-acre Betabel Road node property.

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, a judge sided with the county, ruling that the C-1 designation is “essentially different” from Measure K

Andy Hsia-Coron of Preserve Our Rural Communities said Highway 101 in San Benito County is an “extremely environmentally sensitive corridor” that includes wildlife habitat and Amah Mutsun lands. He said the rezoning proposal needed to have an environmental review separate from the one conducted in the General Plan.

“All of this requires far more in-depth environmental evaluation before you even think about doing any rezoning,” he told the supervisors.

With the Dec. 15 meeting being the last before new members of the board are sworn in on Jan. 12, two supervisor-elects spoke on the rezoning.

Bob Tiffany said the project will provide much-needed tax revenue for the county, adding that it would not increase traffic but instead draw the already-existing commuters on the highway.

“We may be the only county in the whole state of California that does not take advantage of a major highway like 101,” he said.

Kollin Kosmicki, meanwhile, said such a decision would further the distrust some members of the public have with the county.

“Going forward, we will be wise as a board to do more as far as working to compromise with our residents,” he said. “I think there’s going to be skepticism in the public about elected officials on whether they’re listening.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho, whose District 2 seat will be filled by Kosmicki in January, said the Highway 129/Searle Road area already has commercial activity with agricultural operations on site.

“This area already has activity, we just don’t collect any taxes,” he said. “We can’t fix roads, we can’t provide the level of service that local government should be providing. This is part of the solution.”