Support for Coyote proposal

San Jose
– The latest proposal to drive development in Coyote Valley is
getting support from an unlikely source.
Property owners in the greenbelt separating Coyote and Morgan
Hill have been some of the sharpest critics of San Jose’s plans for
the area, but a new proposal by Mayor Ron Gonzales has those owners
seeing a different kind of green. Gonzales has put forward a plan
to change the economic prerequisites for building in Coyote, and it
contains the first concrete plans to compensate greenbelt
owners.
San Jose – The latest proposal to drive development in Coyote Valley is getting support from an unlikely source.

Property owners in the greenbelt separating Coyote and Morgan Hill have been some of the sharpest critics of San Jose’s plans for the area, but a new proposal by Mayor Ron Gonzales has those owners seeing a different kind of green. Gonzales has put forward a plan to change the economic prerequisites for building in Coyote, and it contains the first concrete plans to compensate greenbelt owners. Rather than pushing conservation and farming easements, the mayor has proposed that all residential builders who develop below a certain density purchase land in the greenbelt as a environmental mitigation.

To Richard DeSmet, one of the leaders of several dozen greenbelt property owners, that means the land will have a far better chance to fetch fair market value.

“If they want to acquire the greenbelt this is the best mechanism so far because it allows the buyer and the seller to determine a price,” DeSmet said. “The American style is that you put the buyer and seller together and let them determine the value.”

Precluding the 3,500 acres of the greenbelt from further residential and industrial development has always been a central tenet of the San Jose master plan that governs Coyote Valley planning, in part to meet state and federal environmental requirements. DeSmet and many other residents who own property there have complained that by limiting use of the land, city planners are undercutting its value.

While property owners in north Coyote expect to sell their land to homebuilders at a handsome price, greenbelt owners are worried they won’t receive fair market value if they’re forced to sell conservation and agricultural easements to the county Open Space Authority or some other environmental agency.

“We don’t want to deal with some quasi-government agency,” DeSmet said. “The Open Space Authority is supposed to protect open space, but this is a semi-urban area.”

San Jose planner Joe Horwedel said at the latest Coyote Valley task force meeting Monday evening that he’s not surprised some of the project’s most vocal critics are starting to show support.

“I figured as people started talking about mitigation opportunities, people in the greenbelt would see that there are different buyers,” Horwedel said.

But the actual mitigation plan is a long way off. The task force, which must approve the mayor’s proposal before the San Jose city council can decide to adopt it as part of the Coyote Valley Specific Plan, is not in agreement about who should pay to protect the land.

Under the mayor’s plan, only homebuilders that develop land at densities less than 40 residential units per acre will be required to purchase mitigation land. Eric Carruthers, a retired planner and member of the task force, suggested Monday that that burden should be shouldered in part by new industrial developers in north Coyote.

“I can see why we want to make it less burdensome [to develop],” Carruthers said. “I’m not sure I feel the same generosity toward industrial development. We don’t want to kill the camel by loading on too much, but we do want to get a fair share of work out of the camel.”

It will be several months before the project’s environmental impact report is complete, and only then will planners have a firm grasp of what sort of mitigations are required and how much agricultural land and habitat will have to be replaced.

According to a report released this month by Sustainable Agriculture Education in Berkeley, there are 2,214 acres in the greenbelt suitable for mitigation, restoration and wetland habitat creation. But the report also says the greenbelt is afflicted with a “predominance of small parcels, a patchwork development pattern, presence of industrial land uses, and a lack of buffering from non-farm residences,” and suggests the land’s market value often far exceeds its agricultural value.

It’s that semi-urban nature of the land that has greenbelt owners calling for development there and environmental advocates arguing for a mitigation process that looks beyond Coyote. Michele Beasley, the South Bay field representative for the Greenbelt Alliance believes that developers should be required to preserve land in Coyote, the eastern foothills, the Almaden area and parts of South County. Brian Schmidt, of the Committee for Green Foothills, said Monday that Coyote Valley mitigation should mirror Gilroy’s requirement of preserving one acre for each acre developed.

“It should be at least a one-acre-for-one-acre mitigation for all agriculture land lost regardless of subsequent use,” Schmidt said. “The ‘polluter pays’ concept should apply to losing landscapes to development. If someone wants to destroy farmlands for development, they should be obligated to preserve a similar amount of land, just like they do in Gilroy.”

Horwedel said that mitigations will be based largely on the type of land that needs to be replaced.

“The important piece is what you have to mitigate for” he said. “If it’s riparian land or agricultural land loss, you need to find land to mitigate it that has those characteristics. Our preference is the greenbelt as opposed to Gilroy.”

It’s a preference shared by DeSmet, who wants to ensure that greenbelt owners are the first in line to sell their land to developers.

“It’s half of Coyote Valley,” DeSmet said of the greenbelt. “It should be part of the plan.”

Coyote meeting

What: Meeting to discuss the scope of the Coyote Valley Specific Plan environmental impact report

When: Tonight, 7pm

Where: Coyote Creek Golf Course, 1 Coyote Creek Drive, San Jose

Notice of preparation for the report can be viewed at www.sanjoseca.gov/coyotevalley/EIR.html

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