Developers Don’t Want to Pay For Coyote Greenbelt

One developer says the burden should be spread throughout Santa
Clara County
San Jose – Homebuilders poised to develop Coyote Valley have one problem with new rules that could help them build sooner rather than later – they don’t want to bear the costs of protecting the greenbelt between San Jose and Morgan Hill.

If approved by the San Jose City Council later this year, the rules will allow any self-supporting development project to get underway almost immediately. But the rules also call for homebuilders to pay fees to protect the greenbelt.

One developer, Steve Speno, of Gibson Speno, thinks the burden should be spread throughout the county. He’s even suggested a countywide parcel tax measure to fund purchasing greenbelt properties.

“The greenbelt is a benefit to the entire county, not just people in Coyote Valley,” Speno said this week at a meeting of the task force directing Coyote Valley growth. “There is a coordinated effort in the county to protect open space and we should explore the extent to which the greenbelt fits into that.”

But Supervisor Don Gage noted that that the greenbelt, which rings Coyote Valley to the east and south, doesn’t include much open space in it’s 3,700 acres.

Much of the land is subdivided and privately owned.

“To make it valuable to people, they need to be able to use it,” Gage said. “There’s no access. It’s like saying I’m going to jog across the grass in your yard.”

And environmentalists, who believe developing Coyote until it’s home to 50,000 residents and 50,000 jobs will destroy habitat and a critical wildlife corridor, said developers should take on the financial burden of protecting Coyote Valley’s environmental resources.

“If they want to mitigate for this project, they should pay for it,” Brian Schmidt, of the Committee for Green Foothills, said. “They shouldn’t expect other people to pay for the environmental damages they’re going to cause.”

Most officials, though, recognize a need to seek other financing to ensure that the greenbelt maintains its semi-rural character.

David Bischoff, a retired Morgan Hill planner, said that city is open to exploring alternative financing models for the greenbelt, which is an important part of Morgan Hill’s growth policies.

“We’re interested in talking about the preservation of the greenbelt,” Bischoff said. “You need as broad a base as possible.”

To that end, the task force has tweaked the rules for greenbelt fees.

Outside of affordable housing, all residential projects will be charged, as will commercial and industrial developers, with different incentives added to attract a variety of different developments.

San Jose planners will also seek outside funding, such as agreements with Morgan Hill or the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority.

The decision infuriated greenbelt property owners, who want the freedom to negotiate with individual homebuilders and not government agencies.

“I’m ashamed of this decision. It makes my blood boil,” landowner Richard DeSmet told the task force. “Everybody wants open space but nobody wants to pay for it.”

Matt King covers Santa Clara County for The Dispatch. Reach him at 847-7240 or [email protected]

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