Plan to build on Sargent Ranch

GILROY
– After being submitted and withdrawn twice from consideration
by the county in recent years, a controversial proposal to build
two golf courses and up to 140 luxury homes on ranchland southwest
of Gilroy may still be alive.
GILROY – After being submitted and withdrawn twice from consideration by the county in recent years, a controversial proposal to build two golf courses and up to 140 luxury homes on ranchland southwest of Gilroy may still be alive.

Representatives of Sargent Ranch LLC appeared at Monday’s Gilroy City Council meeting to present preliminary development plans for a portion of the 5,200 acres of unincorporated ranchland, located on the west side of U.S. 101 between the Castro Valley Ranch and the San Benito and Santa Cruz county lines.

Sargent Ranch LLC representative Skip Spering made no promises that the developer would actually go forward with the plans, which he said are similar to those presented in the past. But he said the developer was using a new approach hoping to better explain and stress positive aspects of the project, which would actually go before the county for approval.

“This is a much slower, more deliberate approach to get some support, especially from the city,” Spering told Council during a brief study session.

However, the renewed interest has drawn skepticism from some environmentalists, who doubt that the political landscape has changed much and see major holes in the developer’s arguments.

“I’m almost amused he’s coming back with the exact same thing,” said Craig Breon of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. “It’s so clear under the current county board and staff, any project like he proposed is going nowhere.”

To allow for the project, developer Wayne Pierce would have to convince county officials to amend their General Plan and change a land-use designation on at least a portion of the property from the current “ranchlands” classification to a more development-friendly “hillside” designation.

That move would allow owners to submit more specific development plans in the future for at least 130 homes and the two golf courses, which are prohibited under current regulations. The homes would have to be clustered so as not to exceed 10 percent of the property, county planners have said.

Environmental groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance, Santa Clara County Audubon Society and Loma Prieta Sierra Club have opposed such a change, arguing it could open the door for widespread speculation on the county’s remaining 100,000 acres of unincorporated ranchlands.

A Sargent request to have the county formally process the development proposal was submitted in 2001 was withdrawn the morning it was due to be heard by county supervisors when there did not appear to be enough political support to accept it for processing.

The developer tested the waters again earlier this year, submitting a pre-application to the county but withdrawing it before it could advance through the planning process and to a decision.

Spering told Council Monday that although the development would not be within Gilroy city limits or use city services, it was within the city’s sphere of influence for planning purposes. And he said the developer was looking to promote understanding of the project’s benefits.

“They didn’t understand the proposal,” he said. “This time we’re hoping we can get the message out there on the plusses.”

Spering said the development would not require city services, but would produce a “quality, high-end” project that includes a public golf course. A ridgeline would hide all parts of the project, save parts of the public golf course from passers-by on U.S. 101, he said.

And he stressed the clustered style of development would leave over 4,500 acres of the ranch undeveloped. That would be a better alternative than the specter of development under current land rules, he said, which could admittedly take years but would produce “sprawled” 20-acre parcels.

“Do you want to cluster (units) or scatter them all over and tear the land up?” Spering asked. “Environmentalists want zero (development) … Is zero what’s going to happen over the next 20 years? I don’t think so.”

Based on that comparison, the plan presented Monday drew cautious – and qualified – early signs of conceptual support from two councilmembers.

Both Mayor Tom Springer and Councilman Al Pinheiro said that they would need more information on specifics and specific environmental impacts, but compared to the prospect of pattern of full-scale development under exiting county rules as presented by Spering, the clustered design seemed a better alternative.

Springer compared the proposal to Gilroy’s Hecker Pass Specific Plan, which features clustered higher-density development with green spaces.

“If development is going to happen either way, from the city’s perspective it’s probably better to cluster than spread it out …” Springer said. “If the choice is over doing nothing with the property, that may be a different outcome.”

And according to environmentalists, there are still plenty of obstacles to developing the ranch under the current land-use rules.

For example, county planners have said in the past that under the current ranchlands designation, property owners could only subdivide four lots under 160 acres in size every three years, with each lot able to support one home. Under that scenario, development could take decades.

And Breon said there are other complications. For example, subdivisions under ranchland zoning are meant mainly to help maintain ranching, he said. And much of the property would be hard to develop anyway, he said.

“It’s not a choice of ‘one or the other,’ ” Breon said. “If he goes down that (existing) route, Audubon, other (conservation) groups and the county would make life difficult.”

Councilman Charlie Morales warned Spering would face many obstacles.

“You’re going to be awakening a lot of giants …” he said. “It will be hard to sell.”

Leave your comments