Final city blessing for Hecker Pass

Tweaked and tuned, housing plan gets Council approval
Gilroy – A vision of Hecker Pass nearly five years in the making crystallized Tuesday night, when Gilroy City Council members unanimously approved a document they hope will preserve the area’s rural character for generations to come.

Councilmembers have spent the last three months combing through the 100-plus page Hecker Pass Specific Plan, looking to ensure the development guidelines will protect large swaths of farmland along the city’s scenic western approach while allowing development in three areas set back from Route 152.

“I know you guys have come a long way and are looking forward to this document being adopted,” Councilmen Roland Velasco said to the Hecker Pass landowners and other members of a task force that developed the guidelines. “I’m thanking you for your indulgence…I think you guys have gone through the extra effort.”

At the last meeting in December, councilmen postponed a final vote to ask city staff and landowners to create a greater mix of housing, particularly in the one residential area slated for the hillside north of Route 152.

Originally, the “north cluster” was slated for two housing types – 24 homes measuring 6,000 square feet or more, and 33 homes between 3,500 and 6,000 square feet. Under the plan councilmen approved, six of the homes in the latter category will be replaced by more affordable houses measuring 3,500 square feet or less.

The council also deleted language in the plan that would have allowed accessory dwellings on lots 3,500 square feet or less.

When asked by Mayor Al Pinheiro if the minor last-minute change was acceptable, five owners immediately shot their thumbs up.

“We could go back and study this for another six months…,” Pinheiro joked. “There were times that we thought we’d never get [the plan] done. I want to congratulate you for your hard work.”

City leaders shook hands with landowners and others who worked on the plan during a short break following the vote. Congratulations came from all councilmen, including Craig Gartman, who upon first seeing the Hecker Plan in early November said a developer “could drive a truck through the loopholes in this document.”

The Hecker Pass Specific Plan is the first area-specific plan adopted by the city. A task force charged with developing the guidelines was formed in the late ’90s, after Gilroy acquired the Hecker Pass area as part of the Bonfante Gardens annexation.

The task force was composed mainly of people who owned land in the 423-acre Hecker Pass plan area, as well as city staff, consultants, and residents concerned with agriculture and the environment.

After more than four years of study, the task force submitted the document to the Planning Commission in the fall of 2004. Commissioners focused largely on the “finer details” of the plan, said landowner Joel Goldsmith at the end of the commission’s two-month review. Their changes included adjusting lighting in various parts of the Hecker plan area and limiting the size of buildings relative to their lots.

The biggest changes to the plan came at the hands of council members, who received the document with the Planning Commission’s seal of approval in November. Councilmen – eager to protect farmland and open space and guarantee a diverse mix of housing – spent the last three months combing through the document.

Their efforts spanned half a dozen regular meetings and study sessions, during which members poured over land-use tables for each zone within the Hecker Pass area. In some cases, the tables contained dozens of uses that overflowed from one page to the next. Councilmembers scoured each list and deleted uses they deemed a threat to agriculture, including antique stores, beauty salons, and day spas.

They limited the scale of development for other uses such as bed and breakfasts. They also devised a housing formula that reduced the total number of homes in the plan area from 530 to 506.

A small group of landowners faithfully attended each session as onlookers and occasional participants in the council’s pruning of the document.

“I think we lived up to what we started,” landowner Chris Vanni concluded. “A document with a lot of community input…What we came out with is a plan unlike any other in most parts of California.”

A final, bound copy of the Hecker Pass Specific Plan will be made available to the public at City Hall in the next month.

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