Homes Prompt Hecker Pass Widening

This map shows the construction area on Hecker Pass and where

Some of the stately Deodora cedar trees may be cut down as
landowners and the city ponder plans to widen the highway by 10
feet
– but which way is the best to go?
Gilroy – Development plans for the farmlands and hillsides surrounding Hecker Pass Highway may require cutting down some of the majestic Deodora cedar trees lining Gilroy’s western gateway.

But landowners and city officials say they will take pains to save the trees as they hash out plans to widen the highway.

State officials require landowners to add a 10-foot shoulder along the roadway, from Burchell Road east to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, to accommodate expected increases in traffic from nearly 500 homes planned for the area. About 100 of the cedars lie in the area that would have to be widened, while hundreds more line the roadway farther west toward the foothills.

“What we won’t know until we go through the process is whether we do all of the widening on one side of the road or the other;” City Transportation Engineer Don Dey said. “On the south side we have Deodora trees, on the north side we have some steep slopes. It becomes an evaluation as to which is ultimately the best environmental and cost approach.”

City council members and planning commissioners will hold a Nov. 28 workshop with landowners to discuss options for the widening. The upgrade is necessary as part of broader development plans expected to channel more cars onto the scenic roadway.

Landowners have yet to work out the finer points of the plan, but in the next decade residents can expect to see clusters of homes cropping up along Hecker Pass, with the majority to the south behind large swaths of farmland.

Plans call for an extension of Third Street to connect homeowners to Santa Teresa Boulevard, as well as two north-south connectors between Third Street and Hecker Pass. The western connector will let out onto Hecker Pass near the city’s public golf course, while the eastern road will connect across from the Lutheran church.

“Because we’re putting in the intersections, we have to bring the whole corridor up to (the state’s) design standards,” Dey explained. “The (landowners) have put together different scenarios as to how the road might be widened.”

Hecker Pass landowner Chris Vanni said that most scenarios involve cutting down at least a few Deodoras, but said the number “could reach zero” depending on the wishes of council members and Caltrans officials. Vanni and about a dozen other Hecker Pass landowners have spent several hundred thousand dollars in recent months to ensure that officials on both levels have ample information to decide on a plan.

“We just finished the topography, fly-overs, surveying the road (extension),” Vanni said. “We’ve labeled and marked every tree and bush in that area. We’re very aware of what’s out there. We want to make sure whatever we do, it has the least amount of impact.”

Vanni and other landowners are now fine-tuning a development agreement with the city that will supplement broader development guidelines councilmen approved in January. The Hecker Pass Specific Plan is the result of nearly three years of community meetings between property owners and city officials. In addition to allowing home construction in the 423-acre area, it provides for the preservation of large swaths of farmland and hillside and allows a cluster of agriculture-related businesses near the Gilroy public golf course.

The road widening necessary to clear the way for the development is not the only project threatening the trees lining Hecker Pass. In May, state officials disclosed plans to relocate the Hecker Pass bridge spanning Uvas Creek. The bridge project could require cutting up to 15 Deodora trees just east of Bonfante Gardens. A Caltrans representative said the agency will release an environmental impact report in December and hold public hearings in January. City staff will discuss the project with Caltrans officials at the end of November.

At the same time, council members will review landowner plans to widen Hecker Pass.

“I haven’t looked at any proposals,” Councilman Bob Dillon said, “but one of my number one things is to save the trees.”

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