Bonfante Gardens development clears planning commission

Gilroy
– Planning Commissioner’s needed less than an hour Thursday
night to sign off on a development proposal that will bring 118 new
homes to the eastern edge of Bonfante Gardens, part of a
debt-restructuring plan designed to save the horticultural park
from bankruptcy.
Gilroy – Planning Commissioner’s needed less than an hour Thursday night to sign off on a development proposal that will bring 118 new homes to the eastern edge of Bonfante Gardens, part of a debt-restructuring plan designed to save the horticultural park from bankruptcy.

The commission approved the application 6-0, with chairman Tom Boe abstaining because he lives in the area affected by the project.

The only substantive change made by commissioners involved language governing a requirement to replace trees on the 32.7 acre property.

The site contains 125 trees, including oaks, sycamores, and willows, according to the initial environmental impact report. City ordinance requires trees meeting certain criteria to be replaced if they are cut down as part of a project, according to Faus. A developer must plant three new trees for every one removed. Faus said the project would affect fewer than two dozen trees, most of which lie along the northern edge of the property along the Uvas Creek bank.

Commissioners recommended tightening language to ensure the minimum 3 to 1 ratio for tree replacement.

Development company Shapell Industries, which is collaborating with Bonfante on the project, will seek final approval for its plans from City Council on April 4. The project will create a northern adjunct to its Eagle Ridge golf course and housing community, off Santa Teresa Boulevard.

To help restructure Bonfante Gardens’ debt, the Gilroy City Council in August unanimously approved the park’s request for 99 housing permits on the property, an exception to the city’s growth-control law. Shapell has shifted 19 units approved previously as part of its Eagle Ridge development to the current proposal.

The current plan would create dual entry points. Primary access to the new homes will be through the Eagle Ridge development; secondary access through an existing gate at Bonfante Gardens is planned for weekday hours, but will be limited during the park’s peak weekend hours.

The development proposal is critical to the financial health of Bonfante Gardens, which currently owes about $70 million to investors. The nonprofit park posted nearly $23 million in losses during its first two seasons of operation, according to financial statements released in September. It did, however, post a profit in 2003, and figures for the first three quarters of 2004 indicate another profitable year. Revenues from the home sales are expected to reduce Bonfante Garden’s current debt to a more-manageable $14 million.

Gaining quick approval for Shapell’s plans remains critical to sustaining the nonprofit park, since it expects to exhaust its reserve fund in its next round of debt payments, due in May. The park would need revenue from home sales to start coming in by fall in order to make good on the second of its half-year debt payments in November.

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