New ‘mini city’ off Hwy. 25?

Company may revive plan to build El Rancho San Benito
– a new town between Hollister and Gilroy
Hollister – The purchase of railroad track right-of-way could pave the way for the revival of El Rancho San Benito, a project that would essentially put a new city between Gilroy and Hollister.

DMB Realty – an Arizona company that builds communities in the Southwest – has taken control of the 4,500-acre Rancho San Benito property off Highway 25 near the county line and eventually would like to build a mini city, according to a spokesman for the company who is laying the ground work for the project in Hollister. Some details of the plan – on property where in the late 1980s a 10,000-home project was proposed – are coming to light after the company purchased an option to buy the United Pacific tracks between Hollister and Gilroy.

“My initial thought would be skepticism because neither Hollister nor San Benito County has done much housing or economic development,” said Gilroy City Councilman Bob Dillon. At the same time, he did not feel a new urban center would not threaten Gilroy’s retail sales.

“The more the merrier,” he said.

DMB representative Ray Becker said the company has “a track record of doing communities and doing them successfully. What I mean by ‘successful’ is we build unique communities that fit with the (existing) community.”

DMB currently has no specific plans, according to Becker, and has no idea how many houses it would include or what the price range would be. Other DMB communities range in price; some are priced for first-time home buyers while others are filled with custom- and multi-million dollar homes, Becker said.

DMB has owned the El Rancho property for about three years, Becker said. During those three years, he said, the company has been putting its feelers out in the surrounding areas, seeing if there might be any interest in a seven-square-mile community between Hollister and Gilroy.

“What we like to do is try to make the development fit with the (existing) community, not the other way around,” Becker said.

If the community is enthusiastic about a development, Becker said, DMB will design El Rancho San Benito according to what the people want.

Previous communities DMB has built in Arizona, Utah and Southern California have restaurants, shops, downtowns, community centers – one even has a library.

Now living in Hollister after a recent move from Riverside, Becker said it’s his job to talk to the people in Hollister about what they’d like to see in a new community.

“Everyone thinks that there’s change coming (in San Benito County). Our desire as a company is to just be part of that discussion,” Becker said.

Dist. 2 San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he had met with a representative from DMB earlier this week, and was told details were not even close to being set. But Botelho said he wasn’t worried or excited yet about what a brand new community might mean for the surrounding areas.

“The way I look at it, this thing’s so far down the road it probably won’t even come on our radar screen for a while,” he said.

DMB is not the first to envision a planned town between Hollister and Gilroy. In August of 1990, shelved plans for a massive 10,000-home community at El Rancho San Benito resurfaced after running into Environmental Impact Report problems in 1988. Residents remember the property was owned by Roberto Floriani, who had started going through the steps necessary to build a community. The mini town would have had its own sewer system, police, schools, roads, golf courses and trains.

“It was going to be its own town, and while you were in there you would drive around a golf cart that you would plug in by your garage,” said Ray Pierce, a local Realtor and long-time Hollister resident. “I remember him coming in and basically saying he was going to get whatever he wanted … And it looked like the idea was going to be voted in, but around the time he was trying to get approval from the county, we had one of the wettest seasons in a long time.”

And since the property is partially located on the Soap Lake floodplain, he said, the area quickly flooded.

Supervisor Reb Monaco also recalled Floriani’s plans for a new community, saying he had completed much of the legal paperwork before the floods, and before Floriani died several years later.

“They had (building) plans at one point, and they had the Environmental Impact Report done, so it was more than just somebody’s pipe dream,” Monaco said.

Becker said DMB was aware of the problems previous owners of the El Rancho property have had with flooding, but does not plan to build on the floodplain portion of the property. And Becker said he hopes there won’t be any problems gaining community support this time around.

“I honestly don’t think anyone has ever made the effort to reach out to the community, so we hope to be the first to do that,” he said. He added DMB has no timeline for developing the property, and will begin planning when locals feel the time is right.

DMB’s intentions for the railway are slightly more nebulous. Becker said the developer would not be uprooting the tracks, which cut the El Rancho San Benito property almost in half. Becker called the railway “a vital part of this community,” and said companies like San Benito Foods and Tri Cal Soil Chemicals would still be allowed to use the rails for shipping.

DMB has no plans for the mini-town or the railroad in the immediate future, Becker said, including what kind of houses will be built or how many. That’s up to the community to decide if and when they think they want the community at all, he said.

“We really don’t have any plans yet besides listening to the community,” Becker said.

Staff writer Serdar Tumgoren contributed to this article.

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