‘Jewel’ study

Gilroy
– The City Council has postponed final decision on the Hecker
Pass Specific Plan and scheduled an additional study session in
order to tackle a laundry list of concerns raised by Councilman
Craig Gartman.
Gilroy – The City Council has postponed final decision on the Hecker Pass Specific Plan and scheduled an additional study session in order to tackle a laundry list of concerns raised by Councilman Craig Gartman.

The plan, nearly five years in the making, has drawn scrutiny from city officials eager to protect the scenic character of the Hecker Pass corridor – the gateway to local wineries and the winding hilltop path west to the coast.

After more than a month of study, the Planning Commission signed off on the plan last week and passed it on to City Council for final approval. Councilmen chose to devote a special meeting to the plan Monday night, but they clearly arrived with different expectations.

While most councilmen prepared a short list of questions or points for clarification, Councilman Gartman detailed his concerns in a filibuster-type session that lasted nearly 45 minutes.

Many of Gartman’s concerns centered on achieving consistency within the document. In its current form, the Hecker plan envisions preserving several hundred acres directly bordering the scenic passage as farmland and open space, while allowing clustered development in areas set back from the road. It would create three distinct farm-related areas: agricultural, agricultural-commercial, and agri-tourism, which includes bed and breakfast inns and “mom and pop”-style delicatessens and groceries.

Gartman questioned why some farm-related uses, such as farmer’s markets, are allowed in one area while restricted in others. He also questioned how uses that have little or nothing to do with farming found their way into the category of permitted uses.

“Why do we want antique shops out there? Why is a barber shop or beauty parlor defined as an ag-related business?” he asked. “Why would it be a permitted use, unless somebody has a plan to put it out there.”

Neither Joel Goldsmith nor Jim Hoey, who own the lands zoned as agricultural-commercial and agri-tourism within the proposed Hecker Pass area, have disclosed plans for such uses. Hoey has said he would like to create an orchard and farmer’s market; Goldsmith has indicated he may one day build a garden center to complement his seed business.

Councilman Roland Velasco sought to tame the list.

“My concern is you’re only on page 15 of this document,” Velasco said, referring to the 100-plus page Hecker Pass Specific Plan. “Give us a better view of why you’re bringing up these points. Give us the view from 30,000 feet above ground.”

“I want to make sure I understand this document before I vote on it,” Gartman replied.

He then continued to identify other concerns, including the ability to “trade” housing units between any of the three residentially zoned areas. That could raise the maximum number of homes in the smallest residential cluster north of Hecker Pass from 57 to 72 units, according to Gartman. He also questioned whether the residential zones truly provided a diverse mixture of housing – a stated goal of the task force that developed the document.

“They say what their intent is, but their illustration doesn’t follow suit,” he said.

The Hecker Plan task force formed in the late ’90s, shortly after the city annexed Hecker Pass as part of the Bonfante Gardens acquisition. Joel Goldsmith, who chaired the task force, told councilmen that the committee shared the desire to protect the scenic character of the 423 acres included in the plan area.

Gartman acknowledged that “the people who own the land have the best intentions in the world.”

But he added: “Thinking as a developer, I could drive a truck through the loopholes in this document. I was on the Planning Commission and I saw people take advantage of the loopholes and not follow the true intent.”

Mayor Al Pinheiro eventually asked Gartman to hold off on his concerns, suggesting all councilmen submit their questions to city staff in preparation for a Nov. 22 study session. But Gartman does not believe staff can answer many of his questions.

“The problem is, these are policy issues,” Gartman said in an interview. “I am confident that we’ll be able to iron everything out. There will be split decisions as to what we want to see as policy. This is the first specific plan that the city has gone through, and there’s some learning curve that goes with it.”

Craig’s list

• Does vague wording in certain policies create loopholes for developers?

• Does the plan truly guarantee diverse housing?

• Should uses with no little or no connection to farming be permitted in agricultural areas?

• Is the language of the document consistent with the city’s zoning terminology?

What:

City action on Hecker Pass Specific Plan

When:

Study session Nov. 22 at 6pm; Regular meeting Dec. 6 at 7pm

Where:

City Council Chambers, 7351 Rosanna St.

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